STUFFS & THINGS & THINGS & STUFF

Funkadelic, Warmer Milks, Mars, Azita, Cheap Trick, Lightning Bolt, Stacy Sutherland, 13th Floor Elevators

“I’m getting to your stuff when I get into my thing.” — Funkadelic

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Already shared this self-promotional breaking news a couple months ago on the Blastitude Instagram account, shared again now as a reminder that the record is now officially released, available on Bandcamp, vinyl apparently only a couple weeks away):

I, your friend, Larry “Fuzz-O” Dolman, am very honored to have been asked to write the liner notes (and allowed to go long!) for the first ever vinyl issue of Warmer Milks’ 2008 album Soft Walks. One of my favorite bands of the ‘00s, the Milks threw even me for a welcome loop with this sprawling avant-alt-country-rock yearner. Incredible work by @venetiancircle (Warmer Milks singer/songwriter/guitarist), @pheezersdm (Warmer Milks guitarist), @pamsbrother (Warmer Milks drummer) and the rest of the band, as well as @robertbeattyart (visual artist Robert Beatty) with all-new artwork/design, and the beyond-intrepid Ryan Davis of the record label Sophomore Lounge (check their dope music bodega at @technique_street). Edition of 350, preorder now at the Sophomore Lounge Bandcamp for an August 27th [2021] release date.

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Speaking of album covers (or in this case, the cover of a two-song 12” “Giant 45RPM” single), this is a great band photo of Mars (taken well before the 1990s emo/indie/local genres had completely co-opted the ‘only one band member looking in a different direction’ posing template):

Left to right, back: Sumner Crane, China Berg; left to right, front: Nancy Arlen, Mark Cunningham. Photo and design by Steve Keister (back cover incredible too, not pictured).

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One more thing about Mars: seeing cool live photos like this ^ one from back in the proverbial day on the “Mars (4)” Discogs page makes me wonder… is there any live footage of Mars on YouTube? From like 1978? Wouldn’t that be crazy? It was certainly technologically possible for them to have been filmed at the time. Nonetheless, after the proverbial cursory search turns up nothing but science articles in Forbes, I find myself still asking the same pleading question: why don’t we have live video from Mars??

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This Mars-instigated dip into the late-70s NYC milieu just kinda sent me down a Lizzy Mercier Descloux rabbit hole, it was great. Have heard her name for years, but hadn’t heard her music until tonight. First came across Rosa Yemen, which I guess was a two-guitar “performance art duo” with Descloux and one Didier Esteban playing guitars, and Descloux adding vocals. They put out a single 12” 45RPM EP in 1979, and I think it’s awesome. (Although I swear I hear more than two guitars. Isn’t there a drummer?) After that Descloux started recording under her own name, with a debut called Press Color (1979), then achieving a sort of funky Euro-Afro new-wave disco party apotheosis with Mambo Nassau (1981). Very ‘Compass Point’; I prefer the more stripped-down tracks of Press Color myself, and of course the entire brief oeuvre of Rosa Yemen, all 9 minutes and 9 seconds of it.

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Let’s see, what else? Oh, here’s something: at Blastitude HQ (aka my brain) we’ve (aka I’ve) been listening to the music of Azita Youssefi since the fabled 1990s, when she was playing bass and singing for a wild Chicago (no wave!) group called The Scissor Girls. Much like the aforementioned Lizzy Mercier Descloux, I heard of the Scissor Girls more than I actually heard them, this being the pre-internet 1990s, until I moved to Chicago in 2001 and, even though they were no longer a band, was able to snap up all their records lurking affordably in the hometown used bins, and even catch one of the last shows by Azita’s next major group Bride of No No, at the Fireside Bowl in 2001. They were amazing, but broke up not long after.

Wait, did I just call something amazing? Well, these photos of the Scissor Girls on a Chicago rooftop at their early 1990s apotheosis, taken by photographer John Falls, are amazing too:

But then in 2002, what should show up from Azita Youssefi but something that was yet another kind of amazing, and a very unexpected kind of amazing at that, an actual soft-rock piano-rock solo album, released under her first name Azita and called Enantiodromia. Suddenly she was singing and playing piano on carefully and craftily written pop/soul/art songs with a cool/traditional guitar/bass/drums backing band of Jeff Parker, Matt Lux, and John McEntire. But not to worry, Scissor Girls and Bride of No-No fans: despite the exquisite soft-rock exterior, this music is still quite weird and progressive (it has a somber and slow 7-minute piano solo instrumental piece, for goodness sake). I’ve listened to it literally dozens of times and to this day I love Enantiodromia so much. Azita has slowly but steadily released more albums during her Drag City career: Life on the Fly in 2004, How Will You? in 2009, Disturbing the Air in 2011, Year in 2012, now Glen Echo in 2021... but I’m so in love with Enantiodromia, it’s almost like I’ve been too shy and faithful to really go near any of her other records. I know it’s weird of me. (What I’ve heard from the other albums has honestly all been great, and I was even gifted a promo copy of Year recently, and that whole album is great).

And wouldn’t you know, Azita’s new one on Drag City, her first full-length in ten years, is pretty great too. It’s called Glen Echo, and after a first couple listens I’m still slowly wrapping my arms around its complexities. Azita plays all the instruments herself this time, which is an impressive feat, and also gives the album just a little bit more of a punky nervous edge than the smoothed-out rock backing of Enantiodromia. But by no means is it raw punk or anything; it’s actually quite well-recorded and played, but in a slightly different dimension that is the distinct shifting perspective of one Azita Yousseffi.

For more context: as part of the promotion for Glen Echo, Azita appeared on Vish Khanna’s always excellent Kreative Kontrol podcast for an enjoyable wide-ranging 90-minute interview, where she talked extensively about this process of recording the new album by herself. She also goes all the way back to her childhood in Iran, her move from one capital to another at age 9 (Tehran to Washington D.C.) and all the adaptations required, and then her move from D.C. to Chicago at the age __, where she got into the significant Windy City art/punk/energy vortex and made some serious music. Lots of intelligence, opinion, laughter, and balance throughout the interview, and it closes with an excellent Azita-picked song from the new album, the second-to-last song “Our Baby,” a long and stretched-out mysterio-brooder with a crazy dubbed-out not-reggae backbeat.

POSTCRIPT TO SCISSOR GIRLS CONTENT: Founding guitarist Sue Anne Zollinger still does fascinating stuff.

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You should probably know, if you’re fully going to trust me as a music critic, that Cheap Trick was my favorite band in the world at one point. I mean, this was quite a while ago, peaking when I was 16 years old and saw them in concert on March 13, 1987 at the unlikely location of Peru, Nebraska (population 865, but home of Peru State College, under whose auspices the concert was programmed). Even though it was arguably a low point in Cheap Trick’s career (they were working with their second replacement bass player Jon Brant, and “The Flame” didn’t come out and hit #1 until the following year of 1988), they absolutely ripped for two hours straight in an unbelievable fashion. The YouTube embedded above of them on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert almost 10 years earlier captures the same energy. What’s more, this Kirshner set includes their glorious slightly-deep cut “Downed,” which they did not play in Peru!

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Lightning Bolt, man. Wonderfully shot video of them live in Japan, 2014, just being masterful and consumed by their own music. I like to imagine that in this clip, they’re playing on a mountaintop. Figuratively speaking, aren’t they always?

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Some day after Blastitude becomes my day job, I’ll sit down and transcribe this two-hour interview with Stacy Sutherland, recorded in 1977, in which he is joined by his former 13th Floor Elevators bandmate Danny Thomas, as well as his star-crossed lover, his literal femme fatale, his then-wife Bunni Sutherland. You see, I’m kind of obsessed with Sutherland and his band, as are many. A few years ago, during one of my semi-regular visits to Houston, TX (got family living there), I took a pilgrimage to the location of his last home at 516 Pacific Street, having gotten the street address from the exhaustive 13th Floor Elevators biography Eye Mind by Paul Drummond. This was the location where he was indeed (accidentally) shot and killed by his own wife Bunni in 1978. I was visiting 35 years later in 2013, and things had changed. I can’t find the iPhone picture I took of the location now, but you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that it was nothing but an empty and somewhat overgrown lot. Hey, betcha it’s all #hipstercondos now!

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And man, speaking of the 13th Floor Elevators, I’m still kinda proud of this post I made on blastitude.blogspot.com way back on March 3, 2013. It’s still there if you wanna go read some old stuff, but I’m just putting the whole thing right here again, this time for the Substack era on a #BlastitudeFromThePastitude tip. (In fact, this version has been somewhat edited and slightly expanded in a few places, because I’m forever nit-picky):

THE MAKING OF BULL OF THE WOODS

by Larry “Fuzz-O” Dolman

PREFACE

Last time I went out to a show I was doing the usual ‘standing around talking about music in between bands’ thing and blithely announced to all present that Bull of the Woods was my 2nd favorite 13th Floor Elevators album (Easter Everywhere being the fairly undisputed #1 choice). I got some push-back, but stuck to my guns. Now here typing at my keyboard, away from the real world, I'll admit it's not even true -- can't deny the greatness of Psychedelic Sounds Of..., for historical reasons alone -- but even if Bull is the 3rd best Elevators album, there is no doubt that it's the Elevators album I'm most obsessed with, and probably the one I've actually listened to the most. It's an album that feels like it's slipping away from me even as I listen, which is partly what keeps me coming back. It also reveals new depths every time. I just listened to it an hour ago and I'll be damned if the rhythm section on "Scarlet and Gold" didn't sound heavier and dubbier than ever, and how about the crashing and echoing waves of Stacy Sutherland's guitars on "Street Song" as he coolly drawls "I saw some windowpane"? (And by the way, the Decal CD from 1991 sounds 100 times heavier than this thing does on Spotify, just sayin'.) So, when I finally got around to reading Eye Mind (2007, Feral House), Paul Drummond's exhaustive history of the Elevators, I really focused on the 30 pages (309 through 339, to be exact) about the making of Bull of the Woods, to the point where I wrote up my own chronological summary of the specific musical events that went into its making, which you will find following this introduction. Anything to try to understand this album a little better, and I put it here for the hell of it, in hopes that all of you far-flung fellow Bull obsessives will appreciate it. (Please note, this is a summary in my own words of the songwriting and recording particulars of Drummond's text, covering almost exactly a year in the existence of the band, from February of 1968 through the album’s March 1969 release date. Any unattributed text below in quotes that is not a song title is by Drummond and taken directly from Eye Mind. The rest of the text is mine.)

INTRODUCTION

After the monumental Easter Everywhere is released in October 1967 by our protagonists the 13th Floor Elevators, the physically and psychically fractured band disengages from the intensity of the last two years. Members become scattered around Houston, Texas. Roky is not doing well, living a nomadic existence around the sprawled-out city, hassled for his long-haired appearance, suffering from performance anxiety and increasingly showing signs of a serious personality disorder. Tommy Hall relinquishes "his totalitarian hold" over the band and tries to build a new non-musical LSD-based community by hosting and leading workshop meetings at his apartment. With Roky and Tommy out of the picture, too exhausted to write a new album, guitarist/songwriter Stacy Sutherland is effectively promoted to band leader. Bassist Danny Galindo leaves the band, and is replaced in January 1968 by Duke Davis. Although the band is not necessarily in a good creative space, their label International Artists is pushing them hard for product, especially since they are unable to leave the state of Texas due to various probations, and cannot generate income from touring.

1968

February 7th: The trio of Stacy Sutherland on guitar, Duke Davis on bass, and Danny Thomas on drums start sessions for the third 13th Floor Elevators album. The sessions take place at Gold Star Studios in Houston. Sutherland is the band leader, creative director, songwriter, guide vocalist, and lead vocalist. The song "Wait For My Love" is the first to emerge.

February 21st: The trio has developed enough material to bring Roky and Tommy in. Tommy is developing a concept for the album, dealing with the Electra complex of his then-current relationship with Gay Jones. The working title is Beauty and the Beast. Nothing they work on this day ends up being released.

February 22nd:
 The previous night's fruitless session ends at 8:30 AM. Roky returns sometime in the early afternoon to find none of the band there. He is convinced to do some solo recording, and lays down a few electric guitar-and-voice takes of his song "May the Circle Remain Unbroken," adding his own Vox organ overdubs. By evening, Roky is joined by Tommy, Stacy and the Duke Davis/Danny Thomas rhythm section. They very quickly lay down "Livin' On," lyrics by Tommy, music by Stacy. Then, they start overdubbing on Roky’s "May the Circle Remain Unbroken" track to frankly legendary effect. This was the only album session for which the entire band was present.

February 29th: Working without Tommy and Roky, the band lays down the music for "Never Another."

March 2nd: Tommy lays down his jug parts.

March 3rd: Roky lays down vocals for "Never Another" and "Livin' On."

March 12th: Stacy and the rhythm section work on the music for "Dr. Doom," lyrics by Tommy.

March 13th: Roky lays down lead vocal and rhythm guitar on "Dr. Doom."

March 20th and 23rd: After these two more sessions, ten tracks are in the can, although six of them don't have finished vocals. "Never Another," "Livin' On," "Dr. Doom," and "May the Circle Remain Unbroken" all do. The band breaks from recording, intending to spend all of April playing shows, doing a club stand in Houston. However, Roky refuses to go onstage, or doesn't show up at all. Not one full show is achieved.

Early April: Roky continues to take acid and get dosed by others, and is often seen wearing a band-aid in the middle of his forehead, so that his “third eye” can be “transmitting, but not receiving.” He skips a scheduled Elevators show by impulsively catching a ride to Austin, where he stays, briefly sharing a house with another Texas music legend, the folk & country singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt. Now the potential for album sessions is even more disjointed. Impatient for progress, International Artists decides to release a single of "May the Circle Remain Unbroken" b/w Stacy's song "Wait For My Love." This sends Stacy to the studio alone, in a last-minute attempt to improve the song with "endless" overdubs. It undergoes a name change to "Someday My Love."

April 20th: In bed trying to sleep, Evelyn Erickson hears her son Roky "screaming" and "talking gibberish" outside. This is considered the first real psychotic episode for Roky. Early in the morning, he is taken to an emergency psychiatrist, the beginning of Roky's fateful involvement with the Texas psychiatric police state. Tommy is still trying to settle on a concept for the album. He begins exploring Gnostic Christianity and writes a mysterious chant called "Jerusalem (Supersonic Highway)" which is performed a few times in a rather desultory fashion.  

May & June: As spring passes into summer, International Artists rejects Stacy's "Someday My Love" as the B-side and decides to replace it with a Buddy Holly cover outtake from 1966. Stacy does more work in the studio in May and June, though it is not certain what is produced here except the controversial horn overdubs on "Never Another," "Livin' On," and "Dr. Doom." These were laid down by two trombonists and one trumpeter from the Houston Symphony Orchestra, on Danny Thomas's invitation.

June: International Artists releases "May the Circle Remain Unbroken" b/w "I'm Gonna Love You Too" (the Buddy Holly cover).

July: Still impatient with the way the third album is developing, International Artists begins production on the fake Live album. Duke Davis drifts out of the band and is replaced by the returning Ronnie Leatherman. The band fragments further when, behind Stacy's back, Tommy and Roky attempt to re-relocate the band to San Francisco with a new rhythm section.

August: In a final run at the 3rd album by the Sutherland/Leatherman/Thomas trio, 7 new songs are recorded. "Down by the River," "Scarlet and the Gold," and "With You" are keepers. "Someday My Love" uses a new set of lyrics by Tommy Hall and becomes "Til Then." Ensemble vocals by all three members are laid down. In the meantime, the fake live album is released.

September 26th: The third album is declared finished and in the can (if only International Artists could’ve waited another month). Stacy gives it the title Bull of the Woods, reflecting the resiliency and determination it took for him to get the project done.

1969

February: "Livin' On" b/w "Scarlet and the Gold" is released as an advance single.

March: Bull of the Woods is released. "[Stacy's cover concept] was to portray the band's Texas heritage by using the silhouette of a longhorn bull to similar effect as the familiar representation of the proud Spanish bull. [Rather clueless International Artists label head Bill] Dillard took the title literally and lifted an image of a bull's head poking through a wooden fence, from a steakhouse menu he swiped."

The record barely sells at all, and the 13th Floor Elevators never played together again (we already know what happened to Sutherland), but its deep haunting sounds are still…………. "livin' on.”