Thursday, March 31, 2016

COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: Batman # 180 (May 1966)

This inaugural entry of Comic Book Retroview was written some time in the '80s as a spec submission to Comics Buyer's Guide; it was intended to be the first in a series of reviews of back issue comics (an idea a CBG reader had suggested in the letter column), but editors Don and Maggie Thompson passed on the idea.  This is its first publication. All images copyright DC Comics Inc.

In 1966, Batman and Robin became household names.  The vehicle for this new-found fame was, of course, a twice-weekly televised showcase on the ABC network, a comedy/adventure program which would catapult the Caped Crusaders to national prominence and magazine sales in excess of one million copies that year.  Around the same time that the TV show was beginning to gain in popularity, Batman # 180 was published.

The issue's cover set the mood.  Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson produced a cover that re-created the spirit of the blood and thunder pulps of yore:  pummeled by heavy rain, the hero struggles desperately with the gun-toting villain--the vision of death incarnate!--as his partner falls helplessly into an open grave.  It could have been a cover for Black Book Detective (starring the pulp hero The Black Bat) as well as for Batman.  The scene is completed by a tombstone marked, "R.I.P. Batman and Robin," and by the ominous threat hissed by the villain:  "I'll be the death of you yet, Batman and Robin!"

Inside, the story "Death Knocks Three Times" fulfilled the promise of the cover.  In twenty-four pages, uncredited author Robert Kanigher (with pencils by Bob Kane ghost Sheldon Moldoff, and inks by [I think] Joe Giella) spun a gripping, suspenseful yarn about a murderous thief called Death-Man, who was captured by the Dynamic Duo and brought to trial for the killing of an armed police guard.  Throughout his capture, trial, and subsequent death sentence, Death-Man remains confident and unconcerned:  "Do you really think you have the power to sentence me to death?  I--and I alone--possess the power over life and death!  I am beyond your feeble laws!  You can no more jail a shadow--or punish it--than m-m-m--"

And with that, Death-Man fell to the ground, and was pronounced dead on the spot.  This was on page seven.  Mere pages later, Death-Man would soon rise from the grave to rob again, boast again, and die again before Batman's eyes.

Although a one-shot character, Death-Man was arguably the most memorable addition to Batman's gallery of rogues since the 1940s.  Compared to the ineffectual clown that The Joker had become by this time, and to the costumed buffoons Batman would soon play with on the tube, the self-proclaimed master of death cut a striking figure.  Indeed, Death-Man's arrogant taunts and mocking death(s) were enough to shake even the dread Batman to the point of nightmares.  In spite of an unconvincing explanation for Death-Man's death-cheating--Eastern mysticism and self-discipline allowed him to enter a state of suspended animation--the villain's cat-and-mouse games with Batman lent themselves to a fascinating storyline.  The climactic cemetery confrontation alluded to on the cover is wonderfully atmospheric, as Death-Man meets his final fate for real.

"Death Knocks Three Times" was the final flourish of the New Look Batman, begun in 1964 by editor Julius Schwartz to streamline and revitalize the character.  Soon after this issue was published, the camp silliness and "Holy Jet-stream!" expletives of the TV show began to show up in the comics as well, effectively destroying everything that Schwartz had worked for over the past two years.  However, the saga of Death-Man was more than just the last story of that period; it was also the finest, and worthy of standing alongside the later accomplishments of Neal Adams, Denny O'Neil, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, et al.  Really, they just don't write 'em like that anymore.

POSTSCRIPT:  Although the original version of Death-Man never again appeared in DC Comics continuity, the character was slightly revamped in the '60s by  Japanese manga artist Jiro Kuwata, who called the villain "Lord Death Man;" Kuwata's version is included in the 2008 book Batman:  The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga.  Subsequently, Lord Death-Man has appeared in DC Comics continuity, and has even been retrofitted into Batman '66, the 21st-century comic-book version of the camp TV show.  Holy irony!

When I was 16, I wrote a script called "Nightmare Resurrection," a sequel to "Death Knocks Three Times," bringing Death-Man back from the dead one more time.  It was terrible.  I bow to Kanigher, Moldoff, Giella, and Schwartz.   

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lenny Kaye : The NUGGETS Interview

Lenny Kaye is a writer, producer, and guitarist, best known in some circles as the guitarist for The Patti Smith Group.  But he oughtta be canonized for compiling and annotating Nuggets, the original double-album collection of "Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968."  This was virgin territory in 1972, and Kaye's pioneering work on Nuggets paved the way for Pebbles, Boulders, and every one of the countless '60s garage compilations that have followed in the decades since then.  Nuggets also, almost incidentally, presaged '70s punk (a movement Kaye himself helped build with The Patti Smith Group), inspired the garage revival fad in the '80s, and generally invented a critical ethos that recognized and embraced the transcendent, swaggering brilliance of three chords and an attitude at 45 revelations per minute.

In 1998, Rhino Records released an expanded version of Nuggets, a four-CD boxed set that contained the complete, original 1972 Nuggets on one disc, supplemented by three more discs of compatible (and irresistible) cantankerousness.  It remains one of the most essential various-artists boxed sets ever released.  On July 29, 1998, I interviewed Lenny Kaye about all things Nuggets.  The interview was conducted as research for my history of Nuggets and the reappraisal of '60s garage music, originally intended for Goldmine magazine.  Alas, things changed, and the article was never completed.  This is the interview's first published appearance.   

You're getting set to tour with Patti?

Yeah, actually we started last night.  The first three dates are in New York City. 

Have you been back with her for long?

She came back to live work in the middle of '95.  And, you know, we're not out there like some get in the van and spend eight months slogging around, but we have been going out there and saying "hey" to the people.  And this time is pretty exciting, you know, we're going to Australia with Bob Dylan, and doing a couple of Euro festivals, and playing New York City, which in some ways for me is my favorite, because I do celebrate the local band tradition.  We are a local band.

That ties in somewhat with the whole Nuggets thing, and the '70s DIY explosion as well.  I was just a kid in the '60s, so I come to all of this through that, through what happened in the '70s.

Well the same elements are present, I would imagine.  You know, it's a pretty constant regeneration of kind of returning to the source and finding out why rock 'n' roll was kick-started in the first place.  You know, what did people bring to the table?  Especially, as you begin in it, it's not a music for abstract theoreticians who have spent years learning their craft.  I mean, one of the things about rock was the immediacy, that you can learn  those three chords and be up on your local stage, and kind of you learn it as doing it.  And, to me, that's one of the things that makes rock 'n' roll so impulsive and gives it a certain strength.  From there, you can take it in any number of directions. 

What's the origin of the term "punk?"

Ah, you know, it just kind of came around.  I think there's a certain attitude of it.  I'm sure Elvis Presley was called a punk, because what is a punk but an upstart?  You know, a kind of interloper that comes into the established order of things and starts reducing to its ultimate psychic absurdity.  And I think a good dose of that is needed whenever things get a little too top-heavy or serious or stuck in the mud.  That doesn't mean that there isn't room for great art to be made out of a punk attitude.  But mostly it is an attitude, it's a sense of...otherness from the mainstream, in the sense that a certain patch of ground is being staked out and you're gonna defend it.

"Stuck in the mud" seems to describe the milieu into which Nuggets appeared in 1972. 

Ah, yes and no.  I think maybe at the time things had seemed [to be] getting a little slick.  On the one hand you had your prog-rock symphonies, and on the other you had a certain mellowness invading the pop charts.  But throughout there was an underground of bands doing pretty concrete work that was gathering a bunch of fans and adherents around them.  And, in the true nature of the underground forming under the overground, this was kind of coalescing.  Nuggets worked as a kind of opposition to the dominant trends of the time by kind of re-focusing things on the short, sharp shock of the hit single.  You know, the quick blast of energy, the guitar hook and the kind of in-your-face chorus.  And  basically--I know for me, at least--it kind of reminded me of why I started playing music in the first place.  Which I think is something that periodically has to be done, just to connect with that original sin.

A lot of people I've interviewed have told similar stories, of losing touch in the '70s with the essence of vitality they used to hear on AM radio when they were kids.

And that, of course, overlooks a lot of really great music being made on AM radio [in the '70s].  I'm not some kind of underground snob.  At the time, we were also talking about the beginnings of glitter rock in England.  Because music is so widespread, there's always things happening.  I think maybe my stance, and a lot of like-minded individuals, just wanted to bring it back to a certain root that was maybe getting covered up--you know, the wellsprings of rock 'n' roll.  And they do gush out at varying intervals whenever things seem to get caught up in their own predictability. 

I subscribe to the notion that there's never been a bad period in rock 'n' roll. There's always something going on.

Oh, absolutely!  I always have favorite records.  Because, you know, there's a lot of people out there making music.  Especially in these days, where every niche and genre seems to be well taken care of.

And there's still garage music.
The spirit lives on.  Because what Nuggets is about is spirit, more than anything.  You can take away the Farfisa organ and the fuzztone, and the clothing of the period, and what you have, essentially, is a bunch of great records that are galvanized by a sense of discovery of possibility, which was part of that time.  These bands still think in terms of hit singles, but all of a sudden the palette of sound and content and form had opened up.  You could literally throw anything into your mix and make it work.  And these bands were experimenting like crazy, kind of intoxicated by the sense of what could be.  And that's always been a moment in time that I've always appreciated.  That, to me, is where the most unpredictable music is made.  I'm not really that interested in it when it gets a formal definition.  "Definitions define limits," in the words of Mao of the Red Krayola.  I like when things can become anything they wanna become.  That actually people don't know what they're doing, in the sense they come up with things that they might never have consciously imagined, or that they think they're sounding like one thing and really they're sounding like something completely different.  It's kind of a wild card mentality. 

The historical retrospective doesn't have much, if any, manifestation in rock 'n' roll before Nuggets.

Well, I can't claim first on the block thing, and never would.  My role models, I mean I was very much into the Yazoo blues albums, which were, you know... I think United Artists had done a lot of Imperial and kind of gone into their vaults, Bob Hite had something to do with that, I forget the name of the exact series.  And then there was the Legendary Masters series that United Artists had put together, even though those were single-artist packages.  But I wasn't unfamiliar with the form.  I think what my contribution might have been was to kind of cobble together two opposing types of oldies packages.  You know, on the one hand you have your "Greatest Goodies of the '50s," usually with some kind of motorcycle-y scene on the front.  And my touchstone for that were these albums that came out in the early '60s, under the rubric of  "Mr. Maestro."  And there was like four or five volumes for it.  I had, I think, Volume Four.  It kind of introduced me to things like "For Your Precious Love" by the Impressions, you know, things like that.  So they were really great oldies albums that you'd want to listen to, start to finish.  And cut with this Yazoo blues scholar thing.  And I knew I didn't want to do either of them, because what Nuggets actually moved into was the middle ground.  You know, not the greatest hits of the period, or the greatest scholarly obscurities.  You know, kind of a great listening album that took elements of both approaches and tried to make it a package that even a non-fan or afficionado could listen to it and think, "Wow, what a bunch of great records!"

Nuggets was, to me when I put it together, was vastly different music.  You know, to me there is a lot of difference between a group like Sagittarius to The Amboy Dukes, to The Knickerbockers, to The Vagrants--these were very different styles.   And I think maybe the retro look of years has honed more into a kind of specific definition of a Nuggets type of band, more garagey, than actually was on the first record.  I think Rhino does pay a certain amount of respect to that in the sense that this is not just like a band with a fuzztone, you know, there are some actual real producers on there, there's some pop recordings.  You know, it's a little bit of everything--within a certain sensibility--that makes Nuggets.  It's not just every hit with a band from the '60s.  Or, still, every obscure track dug up by some garage band in Wyoming that had 50 copies.  I mean, both of those approaches are valid, and I have records of all of them.  But I like the sense of you got a lot of variety within a certain overall...I don't know, an overall!  (laughs)

What were you doing with your life prior to Nuggets?  Had you been in bands?

I had been in bands as a teenager in New Jersey where I grew up, in Central New Jersey, Brunswick.  And I think I originally wanted to be kind of a backyard folk singer, you know, moodily strumming my guitar.  But, about the time I first picked up a guitar, The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, unleashing a whole new breed of band.  Most of the bands you saw around town were kind of instrumental combos, resembling Johnny and the Hurricanes.  So all of a sudden you had these singing and performing bands.  I was a record collector--I specialized in doo-wop music, and actually went to the famous Times Square Records in the Sixth Avenue subway arcade, and kind of witnessed the birth of rock record collecting.  Certainly, it wasn't the first time people collected records, but a certain sensibility that rock had enough history to be collected.  I was kind of there.  But I was much too young to be in a doo-wop band, and almost too young to be in a garage band.  But, you know, I started playing in bands.  I had a band called The Vandals, and a band called The Zoo.  We mostly played college fraternity parties and mixers, swim clubs, you know, your pretty standard stuff.  No real originals.  But in 1966 I made a record under the name of Link Cromwell.  It was called "Crazy Like A Fox."  Kind of a product of these two producers from New York, one of whom was my uncle, Larry Kusik, who was kind of a MOR songwriter.  He wrote "The Love Theme From The Godfather" and "The Love Theme From Romeo And Juliet," you know, he specialized in those love themes.  But he had worked with a guy named Richie Adams, who was the lead singer of The Fireflies.  You remember that record, "You Were Mine?"

Don't think I'm familiar with that one.

I'm sure someone at Goldmine will tell you.  It was a pretty big hit, like in the late '50s.  And they were songwriters, and they saw that folk protest was happening and they asked me to sing "Eve Of Destruction" over the phone to 'em.  Which I did, and then a couple of weeks later I was in a studio in New York , singing my heart out on this piece of folk-rock, you know, rebelliousness.  "They call me neurotic, and say I'm psychotic, because I let my hair grow long," et cetera.  And the record didn't do much.  It was released on Hollywood Records out of Nashville, which was a subsidiary of Starday.  And it came out, I think, in early 1966.  And what it mostly did, 'cause it was kind of a non-hit, was it gave me a sense of identity as a rock musician, which was nice.  And I played in these bands.  When I moved to New York from Jersey I started writing for the rock press at the time, Jazz And Pop, Crawdaddy, Creem, Rolling Stone.  I was a pretty full-time journalist.  And I think it was 1970 or '71, just about when I first started, Esquire had a "Heavy Hundred" list of the movers and shakers of the music business, and as the token rock critic they put me in there for some reason.  Danny Fields, who helped advise the list, and Lillian Roxxon, had something to do with it.  I was a big Stooges fan, so I'm sure they got one of their own on there.  And that was when Jac Holzman saw this, and asked me if I wanted to kind of independently scout for Elektra, you know, listen to talent, bounce things off.  And that's how I wound up at Elektra.  Ultimately, none of the bands I found they liked, or vice versa.  But Jac did have this idea for an album called Nuggets, which would be an anthology of all those songs that were the one good cut on an otherwise-disposable album.  I think he'd just gotten one of the first cassette machines.  And he kind of handed this amorphous idea over to me, and I twisted it toward the kind of music that had inspired and influenced me, as a band member and as a kind of fledgling musician in the '60s.  I guess you kind of look in a mirror, and in some ways you see yourself.  You know, I never really thought that they were going to put the record out, to be honest.  I'd made 'em up a list of songs that I liked to play at Village Oldies-- I was working there as a record salesman in the early '70s.  And my tenure with the company [Elektra] only lasted about six months, and I went off on my way.  And a few months later. they called me up.  I thought the project was kind of stillborn.  And then they called me up and they said, "Well, we have the rights to all these songs.  What should we do with them?"  And I thought, "Ooooh--it's still happening!"  In the parlance [mimics The Magic Mushrooms]:  "It's still a-happenin'."  And over the course of the summer of '72, I just kind of put together Nuggets.  It struck me at the time that these songs did fit together in some way, but I wasn't really exactly sure how, and I left enough blurry edges around the border definition.  You know, like it's "the first psychedelic era."  Not the second psychedelic era, which to me was the full-blown, free-wheeling improvisation of the San Francisco scene.  I just knew that something was happening in that particular moment in time that seemed to be part of a distant era in the fast-moving world of rock 'n' roll evolution.  And so I just kept on making it up as I went along, essentially.  I didn't mastermind it or anything.  These ideas about garage/punk and returning to the sources and the idea that hit singles need to be re-thought, you know,  and you need to kind of clean house and arrow forward.  These were not uncommon topics in the rock mags of the time.

Did you have any notion of what kind of impact the album would have?

Absolutely none.  I mean, here you have an oldies anthology, getting together a bunch of weird, one-off singles.  I never really thought too far ahead; I'm sure if I did, I would have fucked it up.  You know, and tried to make it more weighty than it was.  As it was, I was kind of a little playful with it, just because I was so amazed that it was coming out.  You know, it was kind of like a recent oldies album, you know.  I was hoping they'd go and market it on TV.  I tried not to get too weighty with the analysis.  I tried to keep in mind that if somebody'd listen to it that wasn't already an aficionado of the music that they would hear great records.  And I just had some kind of fun with it, basically.  And I was curious to see how far Elektra would go with it.  And, to Jac Holzmanís credit, he was very much into the movement of the idea.  He got it, he allowed it to happen, he trusted me implicitly and he kept giving the green light, every step of the way.  He didn't try to change it or deconstruct it or anything.  And for that, I'm truly grateful.  He had the instincts of a great record company president, which is hire people you trust and let them alone to be their creative selves.

Some of the song choices were very interesting.  In some cases. you bypassed a better-known song by a specific act in favor of a more obscure track.  I'm thinking of "Moulty" by The Barbarians, for example, or The Amboy Dukes' "Baby Please Don't Go."

Yeah.  Well, I just chose the records I dug.  [The Barbarians'] "Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl" probably actually fit better, in the same way that maybe The Amboy Dukes' "Journey To The Center Of The Mind" fit better.  But, I thought "Baby Please Don't Go" was, you know...I'd rather listen to it.  I chose "Tobacco Road" by The Blues Magoos.  It was very much a favorite cut of mine.  If I would go to a record, I would want to play "Tobacco Road" because it was a true mind-blower.  "Moulty" was one of the weirdest records I ever heard in my life.  And, you know, only given so much space....  What I like about the new one is that now there's room for these other songs that are equally, you know, why not "Gloria" instead of "Oh Yeah" by The Shadows of Knight?  I mean, some of it I was just being contrary, to be honest.  It was my nature then, and probably my nature now.  I always liked the rave-up idea, and I think both "Tobacco Road" and "Oh Yeah" had a certain rave-up quality that set them apart for me.  And there was some sense that, well, instead of putting the hit on here, let's just put the great weird song.

Which brings us back to the point that this wasn't just an oldies collection, but a serious attempt to create a historical retrospective--the first such thing, I think, in rock history. 

Well, I'll let you say that (laughs).  I mean, working some four or five years after these records happened, I didn't have as clear a vision of  it as I do now, 25 years later.  There's something to be said about the movement of time, and also the fact that after about 20 years you start seein' things as they really happened, as opposed to the continual revisions of history.  At the time, I really...I didn't know what I was doing.  And, in a way, that was like the bands on Nuggets.  They didn't quite know what they were grappling with.  They had all these new sounds, they had all this new sense of freedom in the air.  But they were also caught by the past.  They hadn't broken through to, you know, really where rock was moving to, which was a sense of itself as art.  And I certainly believe in that.  I mean, I also believe in rock as trash, and that they can also quite co-exist together.  But could I have identified that?  I was partaking of the possibilities of what you could do with it, with an oldies album.  As anyone, though, at the time I couldn't see that.  I didn't really know.  All I know is that all of a sudden I have four sides of an album to play with, I have all these songs I like, scholarliness and dates and what minute the B-side was recorded on what Tuesday, and also don't really care about that.  That when a great song comes on the radio, I let it bypass my rational thinking and connect with my pleasure center.  There's something I actually never thought of until we've just been talkin' here.  'Cause, you know, I've been talking about Nuggets for the past couple of weeks now; it's not something I think about over the past years, it's something I did then, and I enjoyed it and I kind of watched it from afar like a weird, proud parent that's watched their kid grow up to be a...

The Son Of Sam?

Yeah.  But really, in thinking about it, I was given more freedom than probably any anthologizer up to then, and I just kind of put it together without a lot of specific thought.  Because I was dealing with music that had that element, of chance, of just instinctual drive.  And, like all great projects--and I think, if nothing else, the tribute paid by Rhino, beyond anything I had to do with it, proves that Nuggets was a concept that worked and lived on--like all hit records, accidents of  fate.  Like, all of a sudden, the project tells you what to do.   I just really, in some ways, followed it along.  You know, everything worked well.  The right cover artist came along.  We had gone through a couple covers, and I looked at 'em and I'd go, "Ehhhh--it's not really it."  And, of course,  Elektra said, "Okay, they're not it.  Let's go to the next guy."  And the next guy.  Then, all of a sudden you get Abe Gurvin, who did such an incredible visual for the cover, that, you know, now he's lived on, too.  What I love about the Rhino collection is that you've walked into an alternative universe where the Nuggets albums continued.  It's like the covers, the song selections, the way the song selections move through the different CDs--I mean, all credit to Rhino.  They understood whatever it was I was trying to get at in the original Nuggets.  I can't say that I could verbalize it that much.  I mean, how did I put The Mojo Men next to The Seeds?  What would make me do that?  But they kind of got the parameters of what it is and expanded on it.  They took it to the next and ultimate step.

How involved were you with the song selection for discs 2 through 4?

I would say I was a hovering presence (laughs).  They took the list of what I'd gathered for the second Nuggets, which was about 25 or 30 songs, including a couple I couldn't get for the first one, like "I See The Light" by The Five Americans, and some weird ones I'd found, like The Elastik Band's "Spazz," records that I just thought were as weird as "Moulty."  And a bunch of other stuff.  And they used that as a working model for the remainder of the record. And then they put in a lot of records that perhaps I might not have put in because I wasn't that big a fan of 'em, like Strawberry Alarm Clock, which probably should be there, and expanded it with a bunch of collector obscurities and weird songs and, you know, other songs by the same groups, because I didn't want to repeat songs [on the original set].  So they were able to put in "Journey To The Center Of The Mind" as well.  They just kind of expanded it within the sensibility of what the original Nuggets was.  It's just a very, very remarkable job.  Very, very true to whatever I did.  It really is remarkable, I have to say.

And also, I feel kinda nice that "Nuggets" has become a generic for the genre.  The title was Jac's.  I originally at one point tried to convince him to change the title to Rockin' And Reelin' USA, and he said, "Nah, I don't think so."  And he was right, because Nuggets is amorphous enough to encompass a lot of differing types of music, and yet specific enough to generate an idea of what that music is.  For someone like me, who's a musical historian, to kind of help christen a genre is really quite honorable and something I cherish in my development as a worker and an artist.

What was the initial reaction to Nuggets?

The feedback was always favorable.  If I could use a musical term, it was a very sweet note (laughs).  It didn't move into a squawk.  It was critically very well-received, [which] wouldn't surprise me because it was the product of a kind of critical group-think that was in the air at the time.  It was commercially received indifferently, and marketed fairly perfunctorily, all of which leads to your usual cult item.  I would doubt--I mean, I don't know how many copies it sold--I would doubt that there's more than 10,000 in circulation.  Saleswise, I can't imagine that it topped 5,000.

Seems similar to what's been said about the first Velvet Underground album, or the first Big Star album:  not a lot of people bought 'em, but those few that did formed bands.

Yeah, or wrote an article about it, I would say, especially for Nuggets.  I think with Nuggets it was a little easier to get it out there, because you didn't actually have to hear Nuggets.  You could hear a Seeds album, and the word "Nuggets," when you're getting your mental definitions together, The Seeds would kind of like poke in there.  You could hear an Electric Prunes record.  I imagine that a lot of people who use the term "Nuggets-type bands" never had a copy of the record, because they had a bunch of records by these people.  You know, they had the Count Five record, they had a Shadows of Knight record.  So in that way, its influence and its kind of sensibility pervaded the entire concept of '60s garage.  Which is a pretty potent concept, because it embodies a lot of the reasons that rock 'n' roll was invented.  I'm just glad that people can see what it is now.  And again, I feel like it's almost like it stands apart from me.  You know, I feel almost like this music was channeled through me; I was there, I grew up on it, you know, in a lot of ways it's the story of my growth as a musically thoughtful person, and how it helped guide me through life.  But it's not as if I produced any of the bands, or was in any of the bands.  I was a fan, and it's a fan's album.  And so I just feel like it flowed through me.  I don't really take a lot of responsibility for Nuggets.  I have a sense of perspective on that.

Birth of a notion!  And you deserve credit for that.

I do appreciate it.  And again, in terms of my own relationship with it, I don't want to become the church standing in the way of the divine light, as it were.  I always feel that, sometimes, I don't want to take any of the shadow, because really I was like just somebody's right hand gettin' this music together.  The music to me was always the important thing.   If Nuggets helped capitalize it in a certain way....  Basically, I helped put a frame.  I think it's something that any producer does, is that you have to become aware that...I mean, some producers are the music, and we know that.  Especially in something like Nuggets.  I was the producer in the sense that I put a frame around something.  Sometimes frames can be very limiting, sometimes they can illuminate the picture.  But really, it's the picture that tells its tale.  And I just feel essentially that's what I did.  It's not something that's unfamiliar to a historian like myself.  You look at a kind of mass of data and facts, and you try to put in some kind of perspective, so people can place it in the context of the time in which it was born and reflected, and the little aftershocks it gives off throughout the culture.

There were sequels planned originally.  What became of those plans?

It just kind of got lost in legalisms.  The original Nuggets succeeded in large part because a man named Michael Kapp was assigned the job of getting the licensings.  And he had the persistence that was needed to track these people down, to send them letter after letter, to move through some of these strange owners of tracks that, you know, wanted to trade their track for a record deal or who knows what.  He kept at it, and it wasn't an easy task.  For the second Nuggets, someone else was assigned to it.  Jac Holzman had left the company by then.  And nothing really seemed to happen; they would send one letter, get one reply, and [say], "Well, we couldn't do that."  It just seemed to lose steam.  And, in my mind also, it was done so well, everything had happened so right, to start doing a lesser record would have been not really, you know, justification.  Rhino, of course, they're licensing specialists.  The art of licensing has come a long way since then.  They know how to get the rights.  They really have the whole superstructure together to concentrate on that.  Elektra was a company that was basically into making new records with artists.  It's just amazing that Nuggets got as far as it did.  I was sad, 'cause I thought there was more to be told to the story.  There were certainly songs that I would have liked to have seen in the Nuggets thing.  But the ball was picked up so quickly by the Boulders and the Pebbles and the, you know, "Chips Off The Old Block," that in a way I felt like [a Nuggets sequel] wasn't necessary, that my job as the first runner in a relay race had been completed, and I was more than happy to let anybody else with the enthusiasm and the energy and the desire to keep on building on it.  You know, in a sense, for me, when you work on a record, you really experience it while you're working on the record.  And when it's done, it's done.  And there's such a myriad of musical worlds out there, that if I've exhausted one, if I've learned as much as I'm gonna learn from one certain style or genre, I'm more than happy to move on, because there's musics that I still haven't touched that I know hold future fascination for me.  And, of course, the Nuggets concept as a way of looking at music can be transferred to any genre.  You know, I've always wanted to see Nuggets of, you know, '70s punk, or even mid-'80s L.A. hair bands, or '90s Seattle.  The approach can be moved over anyway.  You can see it in Rhino's Doo Wop Box, or their surf music box.  When musics become widespread enough to have a movement behind them, or a scene, as I like to call it,  then they're ripe for investigation.  And I really like that kind of overview sensibility. 

How does Nuggets dovetail with the emergence of '70s punk?

I think it gave an early expression to some of the motivations behind punk.  Whatever punk is, because, again, if you look at the CBGB's bands, each one of them was so different from the other:  Television, The Ramones.  What punk came to be known as--which is a very Ramonesish-based chant, and quick songs and black leather jackets, you know, that very specific kind of punk--you can really draw an analogy from one to the other in the sense that, you know, here you had short, very catchy songs played with a kind of iconic sneer.  In its broader thing, what Nuggets propounded was a return to kind of rock's core values.  You know, the sense that the music was not a distant thing played by well-schooled musicians--even though some of the musicians on Nuggets are pretty good musicians in a musical theory sense.  But this was music that was immediate, that was gratifying, that was loud, that was geared with a lot of unfocused energy that was looking for a voice and was a means to identity in a way that has some adolescent aspects.  You know, it was not quite your mature music, even though it seems to have matured quite well. I mean, I know I played "Pushin' Too Hard" at Joey Ramone's birthday party a couple of months back, and the song just rocked.  Whatever context, you know, we certainly played it with years of Marshall amplitude and the ever-increasing stakes of rock 'n' roll behind us, and yet the song communicated.  It was a rush to play it--I hadn't played it ever, so it's like, "Whoa!  This song kicks!" If you take away the fuzztones, if you take away the Farfisas and even take away the songs, what you're left with in Nuggets is this attitude that continually comes into rock 'n' roll to regenerate it, you know, to start it over.  To get everybody's juices flowing, and to get, essentially, a new generation of musicians that play the music.  [There's] not a long life-line in rock 'n' roll, you know, every five years things seem to need to be turned over and re-examined.  And when they brush away all the things from the last incarnation, you're left with this kind of core of burning maniac desire.  And that, to me, is what makes the Nuggets bands speak not only to then, but [to] today, and probably to the future.

Somewhere in this time frame, bands like DMZ and The Fleshtones started to appear, bands openly influenced by Nuggets acts.  What did you think of these early stirrings of a garage revival?

I admired them.  I  liked what they did, I liked their spirit.  I'm not sure, to me, that The Fleshtones really sounded, I mean they sounded like...

They definitely had their own take on it.

They had their own take on it, you know, even The Lyres.  These bands may form in the mold of Nuggets, but you can't erase ten or twenty years of history.  Just like a band like The Stray Cats, who participated in the rockabilly [revival], they weren't really...they might have looked the part or dressed the part or even sounded a little bit like the part, but you can't erase the fact that the sound of a drum has changed in 15 years.  They sounded like an '80s version, I guess in the same way some of these swing bands, even instinctively, partake of the last 40 years of musical technology and consciousness.

It seems that bands like The Lyres and The Fleshtones used that music as a starting point; they never really consciously set out to make you think this was 1966 and this is the Now Sound, it's What Happening, baby.  But there were a lot of bands who did seem to seek that.

Yeah, I mean I like The Chesterfield Kings, I like them quite a bit.  But there's something odd to me about such note-for-note revivalism.  I'm a very present-oriented person, even though I am an historian in some ways.  I'm not one to have a nostalgia for the way things used to be, because the way things used to be, nobody really remembers.  Life is never that simplistic; even though I like a good Carnaby Street shirt myself, you're not gonna back to the 1960s, either in sound or vision.  One of the things I like, for instance, is seeing a band like ? and the Mysterians today, because they rock.  It's not like, "Oh man, let's remember those golden times from the '60s, when we were all young and free."  They speak to the energy level of today.  That's basically what I'm interested in.  And in terms of the Nuggets style, I'd much rather, personally, see a band build on the inner strengths of the Nuggets sound rather than the trappings.  I mean, I loved The Fuzztones, I thought they were a great band.  But all these bands, you know, it's like The Cramps--they were crazier than The Shadows of Knight.  The Fuzztones might have thought they were The Shadows of Knight, but they weren't.  They were like an '80s New York band who were taking the inspiration, but kind of standing on the shoulders, in the same way that maybe Cream stood on the shoulders of  Muddy Waters--or Freddie King, I would be more specific in Goldmine [laughs].  But I'm not a revivalist--I appreciate the instinct, and I'll go out and have a good time with the bands, but I'm much more to see what things can be cobbled together with a more futuristic slant.

What you were saying about ? and the Mysterians reminds me, oddly enough, of The Monkees' reunion album, Justus, which was at least an attempt to be contemporary.  It didn't sound at all like The Monkees' '60s work.  I don't know if you've heard it....

I haven't heard the album, but you know, I respect that.  But, you know, if you're gonna use the term "The Monkees," it's a weird kind of trap you're in.  And [I'm] not unfamiliar with it, because here's Patti returning to the live performance wars some 15 years after we last trode the boards.  That's a considerable amount of time.  And yet I feel like we're very present tense.  I mean, we pay tribute to our roots--we don't not play the old songs--but we're very much aware of making the band matter to this moment in time, to having a body of material that reflects who we are today.  And the trick, of course, is to bridge 'em both, to have the best of both worlds, and to provide a certain continuum of yourself as an artist.  Because there are artists that work for 50 years.  It's not like you have your three years and you're burnt out and you're replaced by another thing.  There are some who continually re-generate and look at a new viewpoint of themselves.  And that's the important thing; it's not just, "Are we different, or are we not?"  You have the burden of the past, but you can't be trapped by it.  And I would say that about the revival thing; I'll enjoy it, but I wanna see what uses are made of it in terms of the future.
The Chesterfield Kings seemed like they were going to break out of that trap.  Their third album wasn't a garage revival album.  It didn't rely as much on '60s covers.  There was a song written by Dee Dee Ramone.  And it seemed like they were going to evolve.

You can confine yourself to too much.  That's a definition thing.  I would hope that the music...well, the music that we make with Patti, really, is impossible to define.  We have certain punk aspects, we have certain free jazz aspects, we have certain hit single aspects.  We try to have a space for all the musics in our records, in our kind of repertoire, so that we can be be anything.  And you have to think about that before you set out--if you have a very specific image, and look and raison d'etre, then you're gonna find it really hard to break out of [it].  But if you just are who you are...I mean, The Ramones really couldn't start changing, you know, but Television and us, we could, because we set out to have a much broader palette, and to not be a prisoner of your time.  Which, you know, that doesn't matter when you come out in 1966 or 1986; if you're gonna specify, "This is my moment in history," you're gonna be stuck there.

Did you see That Thing You Do!, the Tom Hanks film?  Gary Stewart mentions it very specifically in his introduction to the boxed set.  What do you think?  

I have to say--and Gary will beat me up for this--but I haven't seen it yet.  I really intend to, but I don't really keep up on movies, and especially when I do watch movies these days, 'cause I'm very much into the early 1930s now, I mostly watch some weird black and white movie from that time.  But I will rent it soon, and I've seen enough clips to, you know....

Yeah, you've probably got a sense of it.  Inevitably, you may be disappointed by it, because you've heard people like Gary--and me!--rave about it.

No, I don't think so.

We went with lowered expectations.

Again, it's hard for me to divorce myself.  I was entering my adolescence at that time, and your adolescence is always a wonderful thing.  And when they coincide with the incredible burst of optimism and possibility that was the '60s, especially if you were angled toward rock 'n' roll, there's no way that you can escape the feeling of how emotionally energizing it was; to have a guitar in your hand, and realize that this was your tool to understand the world.  I'm sure some of my passion for that moment, for being a strange kind of betwixt and between kid in the middle of New Jersey.  In our great duality, there were the Collegians and there were the Norkies, Newarkies, who were the tough kids.  And I was kind of a little of both. My role models were the Beats.  I was kind of a mutated kid, and to grow up in an environment where [you] couldn't choose one or the other, and all of a sudden this whole new option opens up to you.  It was a great feeling, and the sense of hope and self-identity was remarkable.  And I'm sure when I was putting Nuggets together, even though I wasn't far from that particular moment in time, I realized what it had done for me, what the possibility of bein' in a band was.  What the joy of suddenly hearing your guitar feed back, and that kind of weird circle of infinity it makes, where your guitar is projecting at your amp and your amp is projecting back at you and the pickups are catching it and tossing it back at the amp--it's like a weird synergy, and all of a sudden to get on that wave of noise and surf it!  I mean, beyond notes, beyond the rhythm, beyond the song itself, all of a sudden you feel that effect, you become that electrical energy.  And as you take the guitar and ski around its slopes, the feeling of empowerment and being that it gave me...I still am living off it, to be honest.  I still haven't lost that sense of wonder.  I still haven't lost that sense of connection with some kind of kilowatt energy.  It really made me feel human.  It was a grand time to be in a band, especially because you had a sense that nothing had been done yet.  I don't know how it is for kids now, who have to learn 50 years of rock history to catch up.  I was lucky enough, one of the first things I ever remember hearing as a baby is Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti."  And my entire life has been spent moving through the changes of the music.  Will rock 'n' roll survive into the next century?  This is a very good question, and one I don't think any of us can answer, because it has been explored so intensely.  I don't know what the future holds.  The sense of shock and outrage that a lot of the Nuggets bands kind of fed on--how many more ways can you take that one further step?  And that, of course, will be the challenge for the new breed of musicians.  And I'm sure, given the ever-changing face of music, people will come up with something.  And it'll be great to listen to, and maybe in another ten years somebody'll be makin' a Nuggets of the turn of the 21st century, and how it was a transition period in American rock 'n' roll, or whatever it's called then. 

You never appreciate the present until it's the past.

Well, that's the vintage thing.  I mean, I never liked the way a Volkswagon looked, and then about five years ago I saw an old one cruisin' around and I thought, "Hmmm, that looks kinda nice." 

I'm in '80s denial right now, but I know it won't last.

I tell ya, it won't last.  Because on the radio right now they've been havin' '80s Nights, and there's a lot of great songs if you can past the waves of reverb that they surrounded everything.  It's interesting how different textures define a decade.  But people are always making great pop music--that's why it's pop music.  And if you like choruses and hooks and stuff, you can turn on the radio every minute of the day and there's great shit.  And I like it.  It's just what part of the continuum you focus in.

I appreciate all this attention being paid to an album that is so rooted in how I grew up, not only as a young musician, but as a young person in the music business trying to formulate the kind of music I would make as a producer and as a musician.  And I'm just amazed that people still remember it, and honored that Rhino has paid such incredible tribute to it. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Well, this is just silly.  Apologies to Tim Hardin and Bobby Darin.

The late Bobby Darin is not amused

If I were The Carpenters
And you were Pink Lady
Would Chuck Berry play anyway?
Or would we have The Babys?
If I think of Rain Parade
Would Cowsills find me?
"Carrie Annie." The Hollies brayed
How ELO reminds me

Shave Mike Love for orneriness
Replace Mike Love with Sorrows
Mike gave Beach Boys severance checks
Wondermints, tomorrow!

If I were Steve Miller
With Detroit Wheels grinding
Would you miss The Orgone Box
And Yusef's shrewd whining?

If I were a band, Roy Wood
Would Move still shun me?
If I could join Yes, I would
What would U2 think of me?

If I were The Carpenters
And you were Pink Lady
Would Chuck Berry play anyway?
Or would we have The Babys?
Would Chuck Berry play anyway?
Or would we have The Babys?

The late Tim Hardin looks on in stunned, horrified silence

Monday, March 28, 2016

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 819

Sunday was a really good day here in the 315.  To celebrate the splendor of Syracuse, we closed out the day doing what WE do:  The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin' Planet!  This week's example included brand-new music from THE JANGLE BAND, as well as a salute to BEATLECUSE 2016, that irresistible annual Fabfest taking place at Syracuse's Landmark Theater this coming Saturday, April 2nd; this year's Beatlecuse will feature performances by special guests DENNY LAINE and HILTON VALENTINE, so we made sure to play a track from their former bands (WINGS and THE ANIMALS, respectively, plus a track from Mr. Laine's tenure with THE MOODY BLUES).

Honestly.  I'm just in a really, really good mood.  It's good to be the 'Cuse!  And our opening track this week was dedicated to the women AND the men of Syracuse:  thanks for the best roller coaster ride EVER!  And this is what rock 'n' roll radio sounded like on a KILLER Sunday night in Syracuse this week.

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl streams live every Sunday night from 9 to Midnight, exclusively at

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Read Carl's daily blog Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do)

TIRnRR # 819:  3/27/16

THE RAMONES:  Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? (Rhino, End Of The Century)
THE IDES OF MARCH:  Roller Coaster (Sundazed, Ideology)
THE 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS:  You're Gonna Miss Me (Rhino, VA:  Nuggets)
MOTT THE HOOPLE:  Roll Away The Stone (Columbia, The Ballad Of Mott)
DAVID BOWIE:  Suffragette City (Virtgin, Bowie At The Beeb)
WINGS:  Deliver Your Children (Capitol, London Town)
THE ROOKS:  Reasons (Not Lame, From The Shelves Of Soundscape Studio)
THE JANGLE BAND:  Kill The Lovers (Pretty Olivia, Edge Of A Dream)
THE BYRDS:  Eight Miles High (Columbia, Fifth Dimension)
BEN VAUGHN:  Dressed In Black (Restless, Mood Swings)
ARTHUR ALEXANDER:  Shot Of R & B (Razor & Tie, The Ultimate Arthur Alexander)
FOOLS FACE:  Always The Last To Know (n/a, Fools Face)
MARK LINDSAY:  Like Nothing That You've Seen (Bongo Boy, VA:  Out Of The Garage Volume One)
THE ANIMALS:  We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (Abkco, Retrospective)
THE SMALL FACES:  Sha-La-La-La-Lee (Immediate, The Autumn Stone)
THE MONKEES: (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone (Rhino, More Of The Monkees)
BARNES & BARNES:  Fish Heads (Rhino, VA:  The Very Best Of Dr. Demento)
THE RAMONES:  Carbona Not Glue (Rhino, Leave Home)
THE BEACH BOYS:  I Should Have Known Better (Capitol, Beach Boys' Party!  Uncovered And Unplugged)
EYTAN MIRSKY:  Funny Money (n/a, Funny Money)
BARRETT STRONG:  Money (That's What I Want) (Motown, VA:  Hitsville USA)
DAVE EDMUNDS:  Girls Talk (Rhino, The Dave Edmunds Anthology)
REDD KROSS:  Yesterday Once More (A & M, VA:  If I Were A Carpenter)
THE BEAU BRUMMELS:  Don't Talk To Strangers (Sundazed, Volume 2)
THE A*TEENS:  Knowing Me, Knowing You (MCA, The ABBA Generation)
THE MOODY BLUES:  Go Now! (Polydor, The Best Of The Moody Blues)
WARREN ZEVON:  Werewolves Of London (Rhino, Genius)
MAPLE MARS:  First Chick In Space (Kool Kat Musik, Circular Haze)
THE ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA:  Don't Bring Me Down (Sony, All Over The World)
TERRY DRAPER:  Younger Girl Flower Girl (Magentalane, Searching)
KLAATU:  California Jam (Klaatunes, 3:47 E.S.T.)
PEZBAND:  Waiting In Line (Frodis, Women & Politics)
CHEAP TRICK:  Surrender (Epic, Heaven Tonight)
LISA MYCHOLS:  Better Than Nothing (Vandalay, Above, Beyond & In Between)
SIMON & GARFUNKEL:  The Sounds Of Silence (Columbia, Old Friends)
ONE LIKE SON:  The Day You Walk Away (, Ugly)
THE BEATLES:  Here Comes The Sun (Apple, Abbey Road)
THE BEACH BOYS:  God Only Knows (Capitol, Pet Sounds)
BIG STAR:  September Gurls (Big Beat, VA:  Thank You, Friends)
THE KINKS:  Waterloo Sunset (Essential, Something Else)
THE PRETENDERS:  Talk Of The Town (Sire, The Singles)
RAQUEL'S BOYS:  Orange Soda (JAM, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 2)
THE DAVE CLARK FIVE:  Glad All Over (Hollywood, The History Of The Dave Clark Five)
THE BEATLES:  I Want To Hold Your Hand (Capitol, Meet The Beatles)
HERMAN'S HERMITS:  A Must To Avoid (EMI, Single Collection +)
THE BEATLES:  She Loves You (Capitol, The Beatles' Second Album)
THE HOLLIES:  I Can't Let Go (EMI, Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years)
THE BEATLES:  Hello Goodbye (Apple, Magical Mystery Tour)
THE ANIMALS:  It's My Life (Abkco, Retrospective)
THE BEATLES:  Two Of Us (Apple, Let It Be)
THE BEATLES:  The Night Before (Apple, Help!)
THE BEATLES:  Revolution [promo TV version]
THE TORNADOS:  Telstar (Hallmark, Telstar)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sunday was a FUN day!

For the men AND women of Syracuse!


You might think it would be a challenge for us to keep living up to our own breathless hype as The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin' Planet.  But it's easy, every single week, because we follow the surefire TIRnRR Two-Step Approach!  STEP ONE:  Know which rockin' pop records are great rockin' pop records.  STEP TWO:  play those.  Because next Saturday's BEATLECUSE 2016 will loom large in our legend, expect tonight's great rockin' pop records to include some British Invasion, and to certainly include something by THE ANIMALS (with Beatlecuse guest Hilton Valentine) and WINGS (with Beatlecuse guest Denny Laine), plus new music from THE JANGLE BAND, and other seemingly-random goodies to demonstrate why we believe our own hype.  Trust us. We got this.  Sunday night, 9 to Midnight Eastern,

Saturday, March 26, 2016

THE SKELETONS: Fire In The Bones

The Skeletons:  Bobby Lloyd Hicks, Joe Terry, Lou Whitney, D. Clinton Thompson, Kelly Brown

Well, this piece sure bounced around a bit.  I was a big fan of The Skeletons, so I decided to interview the band's bassist and producer Lou Whitney.  I believe this was some (short?) time after editor Jeff Tamarkin had left Goldmine, and my enthusiasm for Goldmine may have dimmed somewhat.  So I sold this article to DISCoveries, which was Goldmine's chief competitor at the time.  It sat, unpublished, in DISCoveries' queue for a long time, until finally the editor of DISCoveries (a nice gent named John Koenig) agreed it was time to kill it.  I collected my kill fee from DISCoveries, and re-sold it to Goldmine.  (And, in the interest of maintaining transparency, I made sure that Goldmine editor Greg Loescher was aware of its prior sale to DISCoveries; Greg chuckled and said it didn't matter, as the publisher of Goldmine had just purchased DISCoveries anyway.  I got paid twice, published once.  Let's publish it again.

The Skeletons, from Springfield, Missouri, may well be America's coolest band. A peerless live act, The Skeletons consistently own every stage they grace with their irresistible gumbo of rock, R & B, country, soul, rockabilly, surf, power pop and whatever else they feel like playing. Their records are likewise keen exercises in the art of a-boppin' and a-poppin'. Yet they remain a cult band. That's the public's loss.

Bassist Lou Whitney's resume includes stints backing up the late, great sweet soul music sensation Arthur Conley. "I played in soul bands all over in the South," says Whitney. "I was [just] in bands that backed up Arthur Conley, so it wasn't like I was on Arthur Conley's payroll or anything." Whitney settled in Springfield in 1970. There, he met guitarist D. Clinton Thompson, and the pair clicked immediately.

"We had a little combo out doin' lounges in the Midwest," says Whitney, "just a money-making combo. Back in those days when it wasn't a sin to go out and make money doing cover tunes. We were just doing Top 40-type stuff in lounges, and we needed a guitar player. So I called Donnie, and he came and did it with us. So we played lounges around, and then we decided to try to see if we could do something that had a little more...credibility, I guess you'd say. Prior to that, we were just in a lounge band doing house gigs, but we would be the type of band that would do 'Jive Talkin'' by The Bee Gees, or 'Do The Hustle' or 'Kung Fu Fighting' or whatever was necessary to keep the job. And then we'd do a Who medley and 'Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)' or 'Jenny Lee,' you know what I'm talking about? Something that we wanted to do."

Seeking to break out beyond lounge-band status, Whitney and Thompson recorded five tracks, including a cover of The Ventures' "Driving Guitars." They sent the tape off to writer Gary Sperrazza!, then one of the guiding lights of Bomp! magazine. Sperrazza! raved about the tape in Bomp! in 1978, concluding that, "If this is what they do for fun, wait'll they get serious." "Gary's one of the reasons we're doing this," says Whitney. "So we said, 'Maybe we oughtta do something here.'"

"Driving Guitars" was issued as a single, credited to D. Clinton Thompson, and the duo formed The Symptoms shortly thereafter. The Symptoms were still primarily a cover band, but a cover band with a vision. "We decided we wanted to start a band," says Whitney, "but none of us really wrote songs at that point in time. So [we said] we're just gonna do stuff, songs that none of us had ever done in bands before."

The Symptoms released one album, 1978's Don't Blame The Symptoms, on Whitney's own Borrowed Records label. "It's pretty good," says Whitney. "It's not bad for bein' done all at once in a little studio with people just sittin' around on the floor drinkin' beer." But The Symptoms soon faded. "We were basically a Top 40 new wave band before anybody knew," says Whitney. "But then it became kind of redundant. Pretty soon bands like that just started sproutin' up on an hourly basis. So we made a record and quit that, and then we started The Skeletons."

The Skeletons formed in 1979. The Skeletons were originally Whitney, Thompson, drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks and keyboardist Randle Chowning, formerly of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Chowning left shortly after the band was formed, replaced at the keys by Nick Sibley. The group released three singles from '79-'80, all on Borrowed: "Crazy Country Hop"/"Gas Money," "Very Last Day"/"Sour Snow," and "Trans Am"/"Tell Her I'm Gone."

The six single tracks are split evenly--and sequentially--between covers and originals, beginning with tunes previously done by Johnny Otis, Jan and Dean and Peter, Paul and Mary, then moving to Sibleys Kinks-riffed "Sour Snow and Whitney's "Trans Am" and "Tell Her I'm Gone." "Trans Am," in particular, is a brilliant record, effortlessly moving from a rousing car tune to a subtle anti-draft protest within a sparkling rockin' pop context. It even includes a Bay City Rollers-style chant! Clearly, this was a group ripe for wider notoriety.

But The Skeletons were relatively short-lived the first time around. Late in '79, Whitney, Thompson and Hicks joined Steve Forbert's touring band, and The Skeletons eventually ceased to exist. From there, Whitney and Thompson decided to start a new band: The Morells.

In the mean time, however, the Ambition label included "Driving Guitars" on Declaration Of Independents, a 1980 sampler album collecting various indie single sides by acts ranging from Pylon to Robin Lane and the Chartbusters to Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band. "And then they also decided they'd wanna do a little single," says Whitney. "So they took three songs off of that Symptoms LP and put 'em on a single [credited to The Original Symptoms]: 'Double Shot,' 'People Sure Act Funny When They Get A Little Money,' and a song called, 'Hey,' which was our only original song. And they put that out, and it actually charted, 'Double Shot' charted in New York City. So we made lots of money playing New York and Hartford and places like that. As a matter of fact, they didn't put that record out until The Morells had already formed. 'Double Shot' was making some noise, so we had to go up and kind of play and explain to people who we were."

The Morells--Whitney, Thompson, drummer Ron "Rongo" Gremp and keyboardist Maralie, Whitney's wife--were critics' darlings, largely (and justly) on the basis of their acclaimed 1982 album, Shake And Push (Borrowed, 1982). Among the album's eclectic mix of covers and originals was "The Man Who Has Everything," the songwriting debut of Ben Vaughn, who would himself go on to become a producer and recording artist (both solo and fronting The Ben Vaughn Combo). Vaughn also subsequently became the musical director of Fox TV's That '70s Show! Vaughn credits The Morells with starting his songwriting career.

But acclaim wasn't enough to keep The Morells going, and the group split circa 1983. "We did pretty good," says Whitney. "We had put out that independent record, sold about 10,000 of it, it got four stars in Rolling Stone, it really did well. But we couldn't take it to the next level, couldn't get a major label deal. So you suddenly start like goin' around, [saying] 'Oh God, what are we doin' this for?'"

After The Morells, Thompson joined The Ozark Mountain Daredevils for a bit, and Whitney produced the first Del-Lords album, Frontier Days, in 1984; The Del-Lords' Scott Kempner had been a friend of Whitney's for a few years by this time, and Frontier Days would not be their last collaboration. Meanwhile, The Skeletons quietly prepared to come back from the dead. In 1987, the Scottish label Next Big Thing issued Rockin' Bones, a compilation of The Skeletons' old stuff (bolstered by three newer tracks). This, in turn, led to an all-new Skeletons album, In The Flesh!, in 1988.

"In The Flesh! was a true attempt at trying to make a record, get a deal," says Whitney. "We cut a six-song demo, Donnie and I did, pretty much in the studio by ourselves as The Skeletons, trying to get us a deal." However, Next Big Thing was plagued by distribution problems. England's Demon label subsequently picked up on the project, combining both LPs on 1990's In The Flesh! CD. ESD also issued that same two-in-one In The Flesh! CD in America in 1991.

By this time, Nick Sibley had drifted out of The Skeletons line-up, replaced by former Ozark Mountain Daredevil Joe Terry (who had also been a latter-day addition to the Morells). Terry was soon joined in The Skeletons by a second keyboardist, Kelly Brown.

The Skeletons also served as the World's Greatest Backing Band, playing on records behind the disparate likes of Scott Kempner, Jonathan Richman and even Boxcar Willie. Former Dictator and Del-Lord Kempner used the group on his Tenement Angels album (Razor & Tie, 1992), which Whitney also co-produced with Manny Caiati and Kempner. The group worked with Richman on his Jonathan Goes Country album (Rounder, 1990). And, while the match of TV record ad star Boxcar Wille and our own rock 'em, sock 'em Skeletons might seem incongruous, Whitney and Willie actually go back a bit, and Whitney had previously produced some of Boxcar Willie's records.

A gig at South By Southwest in 1992 brought The Skeletons to the attention of California's Alias label. The result was 1992's superb Waiting, a wonderful record highlighted by a bunch of ace group originals and an able take on The Easybeats' "St. Louis." Its rockin' vibrance notwithstanding, Waiting basically shipped to retailers in a body bag, and would be The Skeletons' only album for Alias. "I'm sorry it didn't do better for 'em," says Whitney with a laugh. "We recorded it, we take full blame. I love that record."

The Skeletons went on hiatus after Waiting, returning in 1995-1996 to play on albums by Syd Straw (War And Peace, on the Capricorn label) and Robbie Fulks (Country Love Songs, on Bloodshot). Back down to a quartet following the departure of Kelly Brown, the group signed with HighTone in 1996, and released Nothing To Lose in 1997.

Nothing To Lose is a highlight of The Skeletons' illustrious career. "[Nothing To Lose] is really the most focused sound--like a real record by a real band--than anything we've ever done," says Whitney. And the album is driven almost entirely by great, original Skeletunes; the two covers (of "On Your Way Down The Drain," an obscure Danny Kortchmar-penned single by The Kingbees, and "Tear Drop City," a Boyce & Hart non-hit by The Monkees) are the album's two least-interesting tracks.

In spite of its considerable virtues, however, Nothing To Lose did little to raise The Skeletons' profile. "You have to get airplay to make any noise beyond people who already know you," says Whitney. "There's 28,000 records a year released, and those are on labels. It's easy to get lost in the shuffle, especially if you're kind of like older guys who don't have a history of hits in the '60s or '70s, and you're trying to launch a bunch of older coots who have never been famous before. It's a job that has never been done in the history of the music industry. It's never been done. [But] I really think if it got on the radio it would make noise."

So, even while the general public remains tragically unaware of America's coolest band, The Skeletons soldier on undaunted. Though no new Skeletons album has yet appeared, Thompson did join a side group called The Park Central Squares (a trio with Dudley Brown and Katie Coffman), which released an eponymous album on the Blueberry Hill label in 1997. The Skeletons backed Syd Straw on a cover of "Harper Valley PTA" for the 1999 tribute album REAL--The Tom T. Hall Project, and also backed Robbie Fulks (again) on his '97 release South Mouth (Bloodshot Records), and Rudy Grayzell on his Let's Get Wild album (Sideburns, 1998). The Morells even regrouped for a new, self-titled album on Slewfoot Records in 2001, and an album called Think About It in 2005.

"We'd damn sure love to do another record," said Whitney as the dust settled after the release of Nothing To Lose. "I'm a firm believer in music, and I still believe there's a DJ out there somewhere who's gonna stick a laser to [our CDs] one of these days, and he's gonna say, "Downhearted!"' I can play that!" Or, '"Pay To Play!"' Goddamn, this needs to be on the radio!' I really believe that might happen."

It's hard not to believe. Who can argue with a Skeleton?


CLOSING ARGUMENTS POSTSCRIPT:  Lou Whitney passed away in 2014.  This is what I wrote at the time:

Last week, rock 'n' roll lost one of its all-time greats with the passing of LOU WHITNEY.  Please note that I didn't qualify that with an "unsung" or an "underrated," though both would certainly apply; see, Lou Whitney wasn't just one of the Greats among the Greats That Folks Never Heard--he was one of the All-Time Greats, period.  If you disagree with me, fine--that just tells me that you never saw any of Lou's bands--THE SYMPTOMS, THE MORELLS, THE SKELETONS--live.  Because lemme tell ya:  anyone who ever did witness a live performance by The Skeletons, or The Morells, or The Symptoms, would be quick to second my emotion with an emphatic, "Oh HELL yeah...!"

All three of these bands made great records.  There are also live recordings of each band, which can give you a hint of what made them such a damned transcendental live rock 'n' roll experience.  Because they just absolutely smoked live; it seems a disservice to refer to them as "The Best Bar Band Ever!" (even though that's the title of a terrific 2-CD Morells live package), but they clearly and consistently owned every bar, every roadhouse, every nightclub, and every hipster hangout they ever invaded and occupied, and that was over the course of decades playing and proving that they were simply the best there ever was.  You didn't just enjoy a Skeletons show--you BELIEVED in The Skeletons, and The Morells, and The Symptoms.  If bassist Lou Whitney and guitar wizard D. Clinton Thompson had joined One Direction, you'd freaking believe in One Direction.  These guys were everything I've ever loved about live rock 'n' roll.  I can't articulate it further.  I...just can't.  There are some wonderful personal reminiscences of Lou that are worth seeking out, particularly those written by Ben Vaughn and Robbie Fulks.  I can't say it as well as they have.  All I can do is play the records.