About Me

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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Road To GOLDMINE, Part 3: Fools Gold

I freelanced for Goldmine magazine for twenty years, with my first GM reviews published in November of 1986. Thirty years later, I'm taking a look back at my road to Goldmine, remembering my life in Buffalo 1982-1987. I recommend you start reading with Part 1: Approaching The Minefield, then continue with Part 2: You've Got To Pay Your Dues If You Want To Write Reviews. The road rolls on here....


As much as I now protest how much I hate '80s music, I was okay with a lot of it at the time. It was only in retrospect that I realized how fake it seemed, how sterile the sound, how lifeless the drums, how meatheaded the guitar, how synthetic and phony the...well, the everything. But, in the midst of it all, contemporaneously, it sounded like pop music. And I like pop music.

Don't get me wrong: I was still pissed that radio wasn't playing The Ramones, and I still thought '60s music was better than '80s music. But there was quite a bit that I liked, even loved: Prince. R.E.M. The BanglesThe Gap Band. Eddy Grant. Talking Heads. Hell, I went to see Culture Club in concert, primarily because I thought "Church Of The Poison Mind" sounded like Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. Sure, I detested Lionel Richie, Van Halen, and all the mellow crap on Buffalo's WBUF-FM, and the soulless hard rock on 97 Rock; but there was a whole world of great music out there, too. And it wasn't hard to find.

When Brenda and I first arrived in Buffalo in '82, we relied on public transportation. When I accepted the job at Mighty Taco in '83, I had to promise to get my own set of wheels. My Dad "sold" me his '69 Impala (for $5 or something, so it couldn't be considered a gift), a car that had previously belonged to my maternal grandfather. The Impala had an AM radio, so I listened to a lot of Top 40 on 14 Rock while driving to and from work. At home, my station of choice was WUWU-FM, a wacky, maverick free-form station that encompassed rock, Top 40, reggae, and seemingly whatever else its jocks felt like playing that shift. Woo-Woo's built-in obsolescence caught up to it immediately, and it crumbled to dust in short order. My allegiance shifted to WBNY-FM, the student station at Buff State, which worked a New Music Radio format developed by a young man named Tom Calderone. The format was fresh and exciting, open to a plethora of tangents (from show tunes to hip hop), but still demonstrating a discernible, marketable format. It was compulsive listening, and Calderone went on to a successful career as an executive with MTV, VH1, and Spotify. Calderone put the lie to the stupid myth that college radio needs to be an innocuous, cookie-cut entity, that a strict, bloodless format is the only way broadcasting students can learn The Radio Business, and not be distracted by, I dunno, playing something they might actually wanna play. Bullshit. Calderone was right, and naysayers were (and remain) narrow-minded ninnies. Screw the lot of 'em.

My favorite shows on WBNY included The Tom Calderone Variety Show, as well as shows hosted by Tina Peel, Heather The Coffee Orphan, and Cal Zone. Tina Peel's Hullabaloo au Go-Go was particularly (and unashamedly) enamored with pop music of the past, and Cal Zone's Down At Lulu's and Rock Or Roll Memory Bank embraced garage-trash with a manic fervor that spoke to my fuzz-drenched soul. BNY was where I first heard Husker Du, X, Lyres, Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash, UB40, The Hoodoo GurusThe Nomads, The Long Ryders, Suicidal Tendencies, The Reducers, Black Flag, The Time, "Baby Judy" by The Hawaiian Pups, "What People Do For Money" by Divine Sounds, "Everywhere That I'm Not" by Translator, and "Don't Slander Me" by Roky Erickson. It was also where I did my first-ever radio shows, as a guest-host on two episodes of the station's amateur-hour show, Ha! Ha! I'm On The Radio.

For me, garage just ruled in the mid-'80s. It didn't matter if we were talking about '60s sounds by The 13th Floor Elevators and The Lollipop Shoppe, or the now 'n' happenin' sounds of The Chesterfield Kings--I was in. My music purchases reflected that.

I had a number of record retail options in Buffalo, even before I started working at a record store myself. There was a stereo store in University Plaza--don't recall the name--with a decent selection of new and used stuff; I remember buying Tell America by Fools Face (which became one of my all-time favorite LPs) and singles by The Scruffs and The Mod Frames there, and it bugs me that I can't remember what the damned place was called. There was also The Record Mine in Kenmore, run by a guy named Dave Wolin; Dave would later co-found the Big Deal Records label in the '90s, home of Cockeyed Ghost, Gladhands, and the Yellow Pills pop compilation CDs, among others.

But the two best record stores in Buffalo were both on Elmwood Avenue: the legendary Home Of The Hits, and the smaller Apollo Records. The latter was owned 'n' operated by Gary Sperrazza! Sperrazza! (always with the exclamation point) had worked with Greg Shaw on Bomp!, which was probably my all-time favorite rock 'n' roll magazine. Sperrazza! worked extensively on Bomp!'s landmark power pop issue in 1978, so I can't stress this point enough: Gary Sperrazza! was one of my heroes. I met him, unexpectedly, one day in the early '80s, as I was shopping for comics at Queen City Bookstore on Bailey Avenue. Queen City owner Emil Novak also owned a second store--Weird Fantasy, I think--on Elmwood, which he was planning to change into a record store, Bop Street Records. The guy sorting records at Queen City's counter that day was going to run Bop Street. Carl, meet Gary Sperrazza! Carl, Gary. Gary, Carl.

You are my biggest fan!
You remember that scene in That Thing You Do!--the greatest movie ever made--when The Wonders' drummer Guy Patterson met his idol, Del Paxton? I wasn't quite that starstruck to meet Gary Sperrazza!, but it was the same idea. I told him I felt like I should ask for an autograph, which prompted him to snort a short laugh and shrug off that silly notion.

I can't say that Gary and I were ever exactly friends--we didn't hang out together, or go to baseball games, or antiquing, or anything--but we were on friendly terms during the time I knew him. He hooked me on "Beg, Borrow & Steal" by The Ohio Express when he played it during a DJ stint at Buffalo's left-of-the-dial nightclub, The Continental. Emil and Gary came to a parting of the ways, and their Bop Street Records became Gary's Apollo Records. Apollo's wares increasingly reflected Gary's own interest in black music--soul, r & b, hip hop--but the back room at Apollo remained devoted to garage, punk, psychedelic, power pop, et al. I shopped there as often as I could afford to. I also did a lot of trade with Gary, and I later made a deal for him to dub me VHS copies of reruns of The Monkees on MTV in 1986. Gary Sperrazza! earned his exclamation point over and over.

(After I moved to Syracuse in 1987, I still made occasional, infrequent stops at Apollo, though I really didn't get back to Buffalo all that often. Alas, our final contact was mixed; I wrote a massive history of power pop for Goldmine in 1995, which included interviews with Greg Shaw and a number of other key power pop figures, and which certainly credited Sperrazza! right along with Shaw for the role Bomp! played in the power pop story. After the article appeared, I received a postcard from Gary:  "Um--I'm not dead or anything!" Gary was miffed that I hadn't interviewed him for the article. And I should have found a way to do that; it was purely a logistical decision on my part, juggling multiple interviews in a short period of time, and therefore preferring to stick solely with e-mail interviews that wouldn't require transcribing. I didn't have an e-mail contact for Gary. But Gary's story would have been an integral part of the power pop story, and I regret that I didn't find a way to include him. I don't think anyone ever really interviewed Gary about power pop, and that's such a damned shame. And now, no one will ever do that interview; Gary passed away earlier this year. 2016 can go straight to bloody Hell.)

Eleven paragraphs into what is theoretically another chapter in a series chronicling how I came to write for Goldmine, and I've finally gotten around to mentioning Goldmine. But, see, this is all related, all a part of my titular journey, The Road To GOLDMINE. Without everything else that came first, I don't get there at all.

And, ultimately, it came down to garage-bred, '60s-style punk rock nuggets. As I mentioned in Part 2, I took out my first subscription to Goldmine in 1985, when the magazine offered its subscribers Garage Sale, an exclusive cassette compilation of contemporary garage rock. Garage Sale was a great, great comp, with new tracks from The Pandoras, The Mosquitos, The Cheepskates, and Buffalo's own phenomenal pop combo The Mystic Eyes, among many others. God, I loved that tape--I still do! I was particularly taken with "I Tell No Lies" (itself a cover of an obscure '60s pebble by The Escapades) by a Swedish group called The Shoutless; my This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio co-host Dana Bonn has a similar affection for another Garage Sale track, "Place In My Heart" by The Crickle. Garage Sale is long, long overdue for reissue.

But Garage Sale's most enduring gift to me was as a gateway to Goldmine. I started to read the magazine, and saw the potential for me to participate. Goldmine was already covering the great rock 'n' roll of the past, and was also clearly interested in the great rock 'n' roll of the (then-) present day; I was already writing about comics for periodicals put out by Goldmine's publisher, Krause Publications; this was an opportunity. Gold! I could write about rock 'n' roll. I could write for Goldmine. I knew I could.

Well, maybe I could, as soon as I figured out what to do with the rest of my life. I knew I could do the one thing; I wasn't so sure what to do about the other.


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