Friday, August 28, 2009

MONTEREY POP: THE THINKING HIPPIE'S WOODSTOCK

With all the hubbub over the 40 year anniversary of Woodstock and this weekend's release of Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" movie, I thought I'd throw up a little blurb about a sometimes ignored concert event that, to me, was just as important and MUCH more entertaining; The Monterey International Pop Festival held June 16th to 18th, 1968. The 3 day festival, the first of it's kind, laid the blueprints for the vastly inferior (in my opinion) Woodstock festival. The diverse lineup exposed many "new" talents who would go on to great success. The event was shot and released as a feature film, directed by the talented D. A. Pennebaker. Although not every act that performed made it into the final cut, the ones that did were pretty amazing and, in some cases, at their peak performance-wise: Big Brother featuring "recent discovery" Janis Joplin, a "pre-Tommy" The Who still in their snotty Mod mode, Otis Redding backed up by Booker T and the MGs (it don't get better than that, baby!), Jimi Hendrix, Hugh Masekela, Ravi Shanker introducing the west to sitar music, and others. Around 1976, when I was a little 11 year old snot-nose, I had the good fortune of taking a music class in middle school who's teacher, although a bit of a hot-head, was fairly hip. He'd often show us movies like this one that would have a resounding effect on me later in life. The thing that stuck with me the most about the Monterey Pop movie was the performance by The Who which ends in total destruction of their amplifiers, drums, guitars, etc.. I had never seen anything quite like it! For a 1968 "Love festival" type of event this was pretty eye opening to say the least!

"This is where it all ends."

Nico and Brian Jones digging the grooves.

Otis Redding seemed to steal the show and the star-studded audience was simply blown away! A few years later when I viewed the Woodstock movie I was pretty let down. To me it seemed overly long, self-indulgent and just plain boring a lot of the time. The Who's performance at Woodstock for instance, which they've acknowledged was not among their best, seemed bland and a bit pretentious by comparison, like they'd become "important" rock mega-stars all of the sudden. I suppose this is all just a matter of opinion. But if you have any interest in music and pop culture, you should really check out the Criterion label's 3 disc DVD box set with book that came out a couple of years back. It presents the original feature plus the full sets by Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding and unused band footage, unseen until this DVD release, which includes several of the groups that didn't make it into the feature film.

Check out the original theatrical trailer below! (Look for The Monkees' Mickey Dolenz in the audience.):

video

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TUNE OF THE MOMENT: "NEEDLE CHILL" by SEXY SADIE


In 1996 Date Bait, one of the 2 bands I was in at the time, performed at the Chiller Theatre convention in New Jersey. 2 of the guests that weekend were director Jess Franco and his actress wife Lina Romay. I was already a big fan of theirs but this was the time that I first actually got to meet them. Also performing that weekend were the bands Killer Barbies and Sexy Sadie. Not long after that, as I started getting involved with Jess Franco via the Brooklyn based One Shot Productions, I was sent some different CDs by various Spanish bands whom at that time were on the Spanish indie label Subterfuge Records. Subterfuge had released the soundtrack for Franco's "Killer Barbies" movie on CD and LP and eventually would go on to release the "Tender Flesh" soundtrack on CD. "Killer Barbies", Franco's horror-punk film starring the female-lead Ramones-esque band of the same name, also included music by Sexy Sadie. At the time, I hadn't paid much attention to Sexy Sadie's 2 tracks on the "Killer Barbies" soundtrack, I just sort of wrote them off as an okay Nirvana clone. In fact the night we had performed with them I was doubling over from the flu and didn't really know what was going on so pretty much I didn't remember what they sounded like. But later, the more I listened to the 2 full length CDs they had out at the time, the more they grew on me and I could tell they really had their own special thing going on and were not a copycat band at all. By their second CD the band was finding it's own sound even more than it's debut. But it was their third full-lengther, the 1998 release "It's Beautiful, it's Love", that really knocked me out. Overall they had adopted a more pop sound although with some very heavy bursts of distorted guitar mixed in. The general tone of the songs is what I would term "bitter-sweet", quite beautiful indeed but with a strong sad undercurrent.

Those couple of years, late 1996 to early 2000, was a great time for me as I was just getting more and more involved with One Shot Productions and Franco and everything just kind of melded together wonderfully. Discovering the old Jess Franco movies as they'd start to turn up more and more on VHS, the '60s and '70s soundtracks being released on CD, these groups and the other new bands from Spain I had never heard before, getting to travel to Spain to start working with Jess... the music, the movies... everything just really came together in a kind of groovy synchronicity. And this particular Sexy Sadie CD is one of the releases that really brings all that back for me.

Sexy Sadie released several other CDs later on, some singles, a live DVD and several hits / rarities collections. It seems they became rather quite popular in Spain before eventually breaking up in 2006. But outside of Spain, and certainly in the USA, it seems as though not many people have heard of them. Apparently at some point between their second CD and this one a member of the group reportedly suffered a heroin overdose and, from what I heard, pretty much had to learn to speak again. The band continued on without him and so I have always imagined that the song "Needle Chill", from this CD, was possibly written about the unfortunate guy although I could be totally wrong about that. Sexy Sadie, like a lot of the Spanish bands on Subterfuge, sing in a kind of broken English that is quite endearing. (Certainly their English is a LOT better than my Spanish though!) This track is one of the faster tunes on the CD, which is not to suggest that the other tracks are any less intense. In fact "It's Beautiful..." is such an overall solid release, there is not 1 weak song on it. So give a listen and discover a new old group that the US seems to have criminally ignored.


LINKS:
Sexy Sadie's MySpace Page is at http://www.myspace.com/translatesexysadie
Subterfuge Records website is at http://www.subterfuge.com/

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

TUNE OF THE MOMENT: "WITCH-A-MA-JIG SONG" by SMILIN' ED MCCONNELL AND HIS BUSTER BROWN GANG


Back in the 1940s Capitol records released an entertaining series of 10-inch 78 rpm records for kids. Some were singles with one song or skit on each side while others were released in booked sets of 3 records. When I was a kid I inherited a few of these from my parents including a nifty 3 record set featuring Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig (in Africa!) and their pals. They were all expertly voiced by Mel Blanc with an amazing orchestrated score and sound effects. They really put a lot of work into these "kids" records and I was lucky my parents gave this to me along with a few others. One Capitol kids' 78 I did not receive was "The Witch-A-Ma-Jig Song" recorded by Smilin' Ed McConnell and his Buster Brown Gang. If they had given me this record I probably would've had nightmares for weeks. Smilin' Ed was a radio personality who, amongst other things, had a kids program that reportedly ran from 1944 to 1953 that was sponsored by Buster Brown Shoes. One of his characters was Froggy the Gremlin whom you may have heard of. There's something truly demonic sounding about Froggy's grumbly throat-cancer-esque voice that gives me the willies! In any case, Ed, Froggy and the whole gang eventually ended up with a television series that was later run by Andy Devine. Somewhere along the way the catch phrase "Pluck my magic twanger" was born. As for the record, it speaks for itself.

You can also play the record on your Media Player by clicking here.