Monday, July 31, 2017

Dissecting the White Stripes First Ever Live Performance...

The White Stripes
“The First Show: Live on Bastille Day”

All of this is from memory. Sometimes memories are false. But anything here is not purposefully false.
I have far more explicit memories of the show the White Stripes would play a month later, their first “full” show with proper setlists and flyers and more than ten folks in attendance.
To me, I remember this as a one-off, as a lark…that Jack and Meg went to the Gold Dollar open mic with little-to-no warning to just test out what it was like being on stage.
As Jack recalls in the Under Great White Northern Lights interview (some of this may be unpublished…you heard it here first!)
Mr. Historian:  What do you guys remember, I wasn’t there, but what do you remember about the first show you played, open mic night at the Gold Dollar?
Jack: Open mic night at the Gold Dollar, I remember there being maybe just a few other people, like 7 or 8 other people there and Neil the owner, and I think all the other bands were from Downriver they were all from Wyandotte or something.  Which is pretty funny they drove all the way to play open mic night in the Cass Corridor.  It was only a three minute ride for us.   We played three songs.
Mr. Historian (Ben):  What three songs?
Jack: I think "Love Potion #9"
Meg: Yeah definitely.
Jack: Which we changed to "Love Potion #10"
Meg: Was it "Screwdriver"?
Jack: Maybe "Moonage Daydream."  "St. James Infirmary" maybe?
Ben: It wasn’t "Moonage Daydream," I want to say maybe "Jimmy the Exploder."
Jack: "Jimmy the Exploder," "Screwdriver," and "Love Potion # 10"?
Ben: Yeah.
Jack: Anyways I remember the band after us did a cover of "Born to be Wild" [laughs].  And after we were so drunk and wasted, I was sitting there with Neil and they started the song, which sounded pretty note perfect, but then the singer says “get your motor running head out on my asshole!”  Which we didn’t seem to understand what he meant by that [laughs]. Not a typical impersonation of "Born to be Wild", maybe Downriver in Detroit, I don’t know [laughs with Meg].
Ben:  So then after that you guys did, like a month later, you guys played two more shows at the Gold Dollar.
Jack: Was it that week we played or a month later?
Ben: So that first show would have been Bastille Day July 14, 1997.
Jack: Ok.
Ben: And then the shows with Rocket 455, and the Henchman were the 14th and 15th of August.
Jack:  Oh I seem to think we went to go do open mic night the week before we went and did those shows
Meg: Yeah I thought so too.
Jack: Because we were worried that we weren’t going to know what we were doing when we got up there.
Jack:  Maybe Bastille Day was our first practice Ben?
Ben: Maybe?
Jack: I can’t remember, but yeah then we booked the show with the Hentchmen outside the Demolition Dollrods show, we had a copy of the album out in front of the Magic Bag and the Hentchmen walked by.  I said hi to them.  That was the first time we met them. 
Meg: That’s right.
Jack: Remember I gave him my upholstery card.  He wasn’t sure about booking us for the show, but he did say he may have some upholstery work for me in his Piermont wagon. 
Then we booked a show with the Hentchmen first.  And then we booked a show with Rocket 455 after that, because we went and saw Kitty Wells (to Meg) remember? Play at that old senior citizen center?
Meg: I don’t think I was with you.
Jack: Went and saw Kitty Wells with Dan and Tracee from Blanche, we were starting Two Star Tabernacle at the time.  Dan, Tracee and I, and Damien Lang who drummed for the (Detroit) Cobras, and then we went and saw Kitty Wells at this senior citizen community center, and we met Jeff Meier from Rocket 455, so we booked a show with Jeff opening up at the Gold Dollar after the Hentchmen, but we actually played with them first, so they both are always laughing and arguing over who we played with first, where our first show was.  But the first three shows were at the Gold Dollar, that’s for certain.  An old... it used to be a drag queen bar in Cass Corridor.
Anyway, folks have said it before, but it cannot be stressed enough…damn-near EVERYTHING that made the White Stripes “THE WHITE STRIPES” exists right here, day one, without waver. Yet they had absolutely NO idea it would ever get this big. From another interview I did with Jack back in 2003…
BB: I remember you saying, when the White Stripes first started playing “Two Star Tabernacle, I can see us getting really huge, the White Stripes, maybe we’ll do a record or two, be some kind of cult band.”  It’s kinda changed since then, don’t you think?
JW: I don’t remember saying that, but I guess it’s just the opposite.  The Two Star 45 is like a cult thing.  The White Stripes have become some insane institution…in some sense.

The idea of a two-piece band, wearing red-and-white, with a childish approach to their art was solidified on this day.
They were childish because of the extent of Meg’s skill on drums and because of Jack's intent on guitar. 
When TMR obtained multi-track masters of a bevy of White Stripes and Jack White-related live performances from the Gold Dollar, this show was, unshockingly, not available. The master of this performance exists as a cassette copy, mixed live by bar owner/sound engineer Neil Yee and handed to Jack immediately after the performance. Important stuff.
From there, this tape was deemed LOST (by me anyway) for a few years. In the pic below (pulled from the legendary White Stripes / Arthur Dottweiler video clips) you can see a big huge metal Coca-Cola sign on top of the refrigerator. That sign was there forever. It wrapped around all three exposed sides of the fridge. Behind THAT was an old-fashioned metal bread box that held all sorts of badass historic tapes. Not gonna lie…the lone complete copy of the Vegetarian Cannibals master was in that box.
Anyway, when the cassette was unearthed (I wanna guess 2002 or 2003) I remember listening to it and Meg not being terribly pleased with her performance. But she had literally been playing drums for no more than four months, and not on some insanely dedicated rehearsal schedule.
To start the whole performance with “Alright, uh, we’ll just bore ya for two or three songs…” is beautiful. What a start, a disclaimer! Jack’s solo after the second verse sounds like he forgot he had to play one at that point. But the way he exits that portion, with some chugga riffing and a sweet descending measure is excellent and would not appear on the rendition one month later in the first full show at the Gold Dollar on August 14th.
Also, THAT show is burned in my brain because Jack let me make a copy of that cassette early on. For the longest time, that was the ONLY recordings of the White Stripes I had to listen to. So the version of “St. James” from that show is primarily what I think of when I imagine that song.
The last verse struggles for a second to find footing amidst what could be a fake false ending. I would’ve liked to hear it play out with just Jack’s vocals and drums, but this boy will be left to dream.
“Jimmy the Exploder” is what I thought was the band’s “hit” single at the time. So much so that I was quite surprised when Jack told me that “Let’s Shake Hands” was going to be the a-side of their first single. They’d barely even played that song at that point. But Jack let me in on the secret, “I think ‘Jimmy’ is too good for the single. We’re saving that for the album.”
The album? “The balls on him” I thought. No one’s around trying to put out a White Stripes album in early 1998. But as is usually the case, he was totally right and exhibiting just the appropriate amount of foresight. This is why I would wallow in the barely-functioning independent rock and roll underground for years before being brought along for the TMR ride back in 2009.

Jimmy heroes about as complicated a drumbeat as Meg would tackle in the first few years and despite starting off rocky, I like the way that she inverts the beat around the 23-second mark (and the 50-second mark) as it is reminiscent of Scott Ashton's badass stutter beat on the Stooges "Dirt" at the 5:03 mark.

As Jack declares at the ending, "Jimmy the Exploder" is about a monkey who explodes things that are the color red. Or is it things that AREN'T red? "Green apples are gonna be exploding now" lyrics throw me off and I realize that in the intervening 20 years I've argued BOTH sides of argument and cannot remember where I'm supposed to end up.
Ending with “Love Potion #9” which for years was my favorite cover the White Stripes did, despite the fact that by 1998 it had all but disappeared from their set. I have a memory of Jack asking his brother Joe if he could borrow a copy of this song (the Coasters version?) on 45, and it seems like it was explicitly to cover it. 
THIS is so pure, so simple, two chords, one additionally thrown in for an accent here and there, Meg’s drums locking on waltz signature, the interplay with the audience, “What he said…one, two, three four!” and NAILING that next note. Wow. If we didn’t have this tape to prove it I would never believe the performance would’ve been so wonderful.
There’s no tangible way to measure how much joy, love, pain, stress and absolute great feelings in my life are ultimately tied to these inauspicious events that happened twenty years ago today. So I’ll just continue to listen, as I have been for the past twenty years, and marvel at what a beautiful sound could be made by two of my favorite people on earth.

Listen here...

The White Stripes The First Show: Live on Bastille Day 7-14-97

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Record of the Week: Sonic Graffiti

Sonic Graffiti

REAL TIME RECORD REVIEW! I will only write about this record in the time it takes to listen to it.

First song “Broke My Brain” is barely long enough to pay homage to Ty Segall’s Goner-era classics. This is just good motoring punk-and-roll. Love the second song title “Fuck the Police Fuck the Jesus Freaks” and the track pumps with joie de vivre and a slightly detectable punk attitude.

I was hipped to this record by solidly reputable Keith Glass at the Nashville record show last Sunday. Dude’s Australian, lives in Mobile and is of a certain presence where you just LISTEN to what he has to say. He had Sonic Graffiti on his display wall for $20, colored vinyl, limited to 100 copies. I found a copy of Gabriel and the Angels “Chumba” in his 7” box and ultimately passed on it because I was pretty sure I already had it. Walked away, made the rounds.

“Mutiny on the Ant Hill” is more in the realm of solid Seventies psych six-minutes strangulation with verse-like punctuation of Sixties frat styling. Noodle-y guitar scribbles for an extended breakdown manage not to kill the vibe.

The record show was a unique trip as I’d brought my four-year-old daughter along. First time. I really, sincerely struggled with the idea of bringing her…what’s the purpose of a child at these things? Would she just run amok and flip boxes of priceless breakable 78s? Would she even understand what a record show is? She had NO business being there.

“Let’s Die Again” introduces acoustic guitar and a monotonous distant piano. A welcome change of pace at the perfect spot in the running order.

“I’m the Slut” is a memorable title to a forgettable song.

“I Wanna Love Love But Love Don’t Love Me” is a jam. Hendrix-styled held notes and wheedle-wheedle-wee guitar sounds. Warm tone on the guitar. Dig.

But then I realized, my parents took me to ALL KINDS OF THINGS I had no business attending. Shit, most summer Friday nights from the ages of 7 to 10 I spent running around my dad’s softball games, only to be dragged to the BAR afterwards. Begging for quarters for video games (if we were lucky) or more likely the jukebox. Kids in a dank midwest softball bar? Not ideal. Kids at a record show? Acceptable.

Side B begins with “Witch in My Heart” and some shapes thrown in the spirit of Jack White initially felt pastiche, but by the end of the song it felt like guitarist Drew had come into his own.

“Broken Window” is inoffensive and maybe that makes it ultimately offensive?

So Violet behaved herself. I was originally just going to have her walk around with me (like an idiot) but mom suggested I put her in the stroller and lock her down. Brilliant idea. At the earliest sign of impatience I just handed her my cell phone. I’m not proud of it, but such is the price you pay for the ability to dig. She randomly called some family, Swank, watched some YouTube and responded to text messages with stickers (which I’ve never used on my own) giving off the impression I’m more hip to technology than I legitimately am.

“Party Song For My Funeral” is the next song. Equally inoffensive?

“Ghost Steppin” feels changed in a welcome way. The world has not enough fuzz bass solos, so the one placed here is doing God’s work, tempered with melodic, downtempo interstitials. Me likes.

My wife gave me shit for the fact that Violet doesn’t have her own record player yet. I felt assured that she wasn’t ready, but Malissa kept pushing me. Said she needed a record collection too. Damn. Found a $1 copy of “Tequila” by the Champs, which was not only my favorite song when I was five years old, but Violet has also come to love from exposure via “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” and occasional one-on-one performances by Uncle Jack. Scooped it up and once I find the copy of “How Much is That Doggy in the Window?” I bought for her three years ago, we’ll have the beginnings of her very own stack of wax.

“Good Time in Misery” feels rote standard blue progression, but I can deal.

Penultimate song is “Nematode Grenade” begins with the lyrics “I was an alien but now I am a slave” and I have no idea what that means. I feel like the drums are buried a bit and that’s probably my only legit complaint about the mixing here, everything else is accurately and interestingly presented. I can also look past the fact that the guy is playing a Jack White Airline model, but I imagine some other folks may not be so forgiving.

After one guy stopped me as “didn’t you run the white stripes email list?” and another guy recognized me from Dust and Grooves, I spent a bit of time at the Goner Records table discussing the intricacies in pricing Elvis Sun 45’s (and bemoaning the fact I could not remember which two of those singles I did not have), we made our way back to Keith, who ultimately seemed surprised I was buying this LP. Said they’d played a few in-stores at his shop and they were, by far, the best band to do so. From Florida (they are forgiven) personal recommendations are still the preferred way to discover something to love.

“Shadow is My Only Friend” coasts along with atmospheric effects and is an apropos album closer. Ending on a fadeout? Ballsy move. I bet these guys are WAY better live and that’s no slight on the recordings, I just feel like a small, sweaty room probably conveys these tracks better than vinyl grooves ever could.  I am ultimately sincerely impressed with this Sonic Graffiti album. Curious as to why the cover I have is completely different from the one depicted on their Bandcamp, but will ultimately track down whatever other vinyl they have available. I suggest you do the same.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Record of the Week: Counterfeit Jack White!

Jack White
Live at Third Man 2 x 12” and Blunderbuss demos 7”

So the drive home for the holidays was a dream. I flew the girls and mother-in-law up to Detroit and packed the family Flex with sundry goods and a smattering of Christmas presents which would all get wrapped at the last possible moment before their opening. So that left me, paternity leave winding down, with a solitary drive from Nashville to suburban Detroit. This was my last stand.

There were drive through A&W cheese curds. A stop in Cave City where I bought switchblades, stiletto/lighter combos, brass knuckles and a $16 crossbow from a kind man who had no legs. Arby’s.

But the highlight for me would be hitting Shake It Records in Cincinnati. I hadn’t been since Dirtbombs tour ’08 and some time to just decompress flipping through those stacks would be a perfect halfway point celebration.

Man, Shake It Records is soooooo perfect. I love the place hardcore. Exactly what a record store should be.

So I stock up…the 7” dollar bin is beautiful, a copy of Cope’s Compendium, Manson Family LP, a used Komeda LP, and other assorted slickness all happily fill my bag. A cursory look through the White Stripes/Jack White section turns up a copy of the 2xLP live at Third Man Vault #14 release. Priced $45. “Not bad for a used copy,” I think to myself.

But something feels off.

There’s no lenticular cover.

“Oh, but we actually printed underneath the lenticular” I remind myself. (also…yeah, we printed underneath the lenticular. Surprise!)

“But wait a minute…we didn’t just print the photo” I internally monologue (and yeah…totally different image underneath the lenticular. Surprise!)

The entire thing is a super-high-gloss that I don’t recall us ever using on any release. As the person who was probably most involved in the total sum of the parts of this package, my brain is really confused and taxed at this point, unable to really figure out what the fuck is going on.

Thankfully packaged in a resealable plastic sleeve, I open the baby up to examine more closely.

I peek into one of the jacket pockets and see a TMR 7” company sleeve with the Blunderbuss Demos single tucked inside.

“Well who would go through the trouble of all THAT versus just making the 2xLP?” my brain rages on.
Finally, the only true indicator I can ever trust or believe in…the run-out groove etching.

The dead wax of the LPs…nothing. And shitty center labels on top of it. The single says…MADE IN UK!

Then and only then did it finally hit me…WE’VE BEEN PIRATED!

This just wasn’t a run-of-the-mill bootleg, where someone takes an unauthorized recording, radio session, singles compilation, puts their own artwork together and presses it up in the “fan club” intention. No…someone went through extreme pains to try and match everything on an authorized, legal release and pass it off as legitimate. This is pirating. This is counterfeiting…the kinda shit that organized crime partakes in with Louis Vuitton bags.

The initial feeling is incensed. That quickly subsides and I feel…flattered. In some weird way, I feel like this is a sign that we’ve made it. That the Vault has really established itself. A wry smile crosses my face. I’m happy about the existence of this, but not happy about it being sold and potentially fooling folks.

So I bring it up to the counter, ask for the big wigs, explain the deal to them and they’re legitimately intrigued. I’ve heard plenty of stories of artists outright TAKING releases of this nature out of record stores. I ain’t that bold (or the artist) so I said to them, “Listen, please don’t order this again. I want this record, but I will not pay $45 for it. I’ll pay your cost.” Jim and Darren Blase, brothers and co-owners of the shop were completely understanding, solid dudes of the highest order who were more than conciliatory in their offer.

One of them grabbed a box sitting behind the counter, a collection of detritus, oddities, forgotten ephemera and just general shit fished out of LP jackets. After rooting around for a second he pulls out what I surmise is a 1970s era American Airlines luggage tag. Written widely on it is “Bo Diddley Archer FLA.” I take all of a half-second to recognize “Oh shit…that’s clearly hand-written by Bo Diddley!”

Being the dudest of dudes, Jim says “It’s yours. Take it.”

So Mabel’s first Christmas and Violet’s fourth were beautiful and full of happy memories made with family and friends and the framed Bo Diddley luggage tag will serve to remind me of that in a odd, roundabout manner, as an indirect showcase of how we got there.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Record of the Week: Young Zee "Stay Gold"

These "Record of the Week" posts began a few months back on the paid end of the Vault subscription site as a little bit of "content" for the customers there. Being a man of the people I can't let that shit live behind a paywall forever and will pull the best of those entries and let them live here for all the world to see. Enjoy!
Young Zee (No Brains Class)
"Musical Meltdown" Part One

Getting the Sonos back up after months without because of a router replacement had me building a monstrous stream-of-consciousness playlist. Honestly one of my prouder moments...not sure if you all can click in on it, but it's titled "Just Some Shits" if you're curious.
In the process of compiling the list, this song "Stay Gold" popped into my head as it has, on and off, over the past three years. And prior to popping into my head for those years, there was a little morsel of it buried in the deepest folds of my brain. 
So there's a clip I remember seeing MANY times on MTV. Featuring the Fugees, probably 1995 or so, I recall it being somewhat structured as a press conference, someone off camera says something inaudible and Pras or Wyclef say "Yo, they wanna know if we gonna do a rap about OJ" and Lauryn Hill steps up and immediately unleashes this verse (or a slight permutation of it)...
"These dimensions and extensions will secure my future pension
When I mention corporate lynchin's like the cowboys did to Indians
The intention of the Devil is to cause me hypertension
So stay gold like Stevie Wonder don't blunder like OJ Simpson"
Pure fucking genius. Unforgettable. Wowed my mind back then and I get chills just typing and re-reading it today.
Fast-forward a decade plus, and SOLID Milwaukee brother Chris Schulist starts a hip hop reissue label called Dope Folks. Shit is real, they don't mess around, put out tons of records and send multiple copies of all of them to TMR. I'd never heard of Young Zee before, but apparently these tracks were originally a cassette-only release that got four mics in a review in the Source but never saw widespread release.
When I put this on "Stay Gold" from this album the Christmas lights in my brain illuminate all corners like Clark Griswold. I KNOW THIS! The same damn verse from the Fugees press conference!
But YouTube detective work turns up absolutely no evidence of the aforementioned freestyle from back in the day. And I become more and more aware of a phenomenon that needs a name (if it doesn't have one already)...the doubting of memories solidly held because there's no corroboration of them. (I used to feel this about the fake episode of "Saved By the Bell" featuring Marsha Warfield, but that's been subsequently proven). I'm worried this will only be exacerbated by the seemingly absolute nature of the internet. If it's not on there, it must not exist...right? 
SIDE NOTE: It makes me want to dig through the garbage in my mom's basement and grabbed all the soot-stained VHS tapes, featuring old episodes of Squirt TV, long forgotten commercials and Presidents of the United States of America late night television appearances, digitize them and make sure they BE for everyone else out there who just might be curious. I know there were multiple episodes of the TV show "Comic Strip Live" that my brother taped...EARLY shit from Greg Proops (talking about Pixie Stix), EARLY Jeff Dunham featuring Peanut, Amazing Jonathan...we watched them endlessly, helping form the comedic bedrock that my life is based on. I met Proops once and asked him specifically about the Pixie Stix routine and he said "I literally cannot remember anything about that entire set other than I mentioned Pixie Stix." I get scared when I think that jokes are lost to time, if not for VHS tapes just waiting to be saved.
Anyway, the plucky high-pitched timbre of the backing melody on "Stay Gold" is just lazy and loopy enough to constantly replay in my head. But only this week did I think to ask Chris about all of this. Texting me tonight, he said "She would recycle that verse a lot. Especially on Sway and King Tech." Immediately followed by "Funny thing is at the Vanguard (bar Chris owns) right now we are having RAPPY HOUR where a DJ plays classic rap videos and he was just playing "Fugee-La." I saw this text and looked around like you guys were here punking me!"
So that leads me to intensely question whether the verse is written or spittin. Not that it really matters, but...I can't recall the other songs on the 12" and am not even going to bother trying at this hour, honestly anything/everything on Dope Folks is worth grabbing if you have a jones for old school, unknown, unheralded hip hop gems. NO ONE does it better than them. 
Texting through the night with Chris (who was lead singer in the Mistreaters in a past life) had him say "I sincerely wish we lived closer to you guys. It's crazy to think our dumb bands could forge such lasting friendships. I love it." I then sent him a pic of seventeen-year-old me sleeping on a recliner at his house and he said he wished he was at home to send a pic of my high school poetry zine...yeesh!
Followed up with "Are you drinking? This seems like drinking Blackwell"
Not drinking. Just drunk on memories and the tricks the mind plays on them.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Not sure...

If I should play a Dirtbombs show
Like I'm 24
Or like I'm 34
I don't want to ruin my good dress shirt

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Happy Ten Year Anniversary Tremble Under Boom Lights...

I originally wanted to call this thing "Rain on Tin" after the Sonic Youth song...but at the time that domain was already taken. I wanted something that gave this place a sense of sound. After scratching my head for another minute or two, I switched up that thought and wanted something that was more visual and the high-water mark of Jonathan Fire Eater still feels fitting a decade later.

I bought the .com domain for this place YEARS ago and after lazily bothering no less than three web conversant folks about making this happen over the past seven years with absolutely no results, I will happily take advice from anyone who can help take this thing to the next level.

I originally bristled at the idea of writing a blog...not only for hating that term, but for some reason thinking it was a lame thing to do. But Creem online was clearly moribund and not running the pieces I was sending their way (reviewing 7" singles, specifically) so I said "fuck it" and ran with it. I reasoned that it was the modern equivalent to what a zine was ten years earlier. I've always had the sub-titled of "Pap and pabulum for the post-modern proletariat" because I thought it sounded just a bit pretentious and self-deprecating at the same time. I kept the same design for nine plus years before just updating it recently out of boredom.

Damn I had so much to say. I wouldn't shut up when a tour was happening! As I look at the yearly number of posts, it dwindles considerably once a full-time job pops up and even more once fatherhood kicks in. I'm happy for this place to be the repository of where my so-called creativity and opinion lives, whether it be writing, talking, videos, shameless self-promotion or whatever the Internet lets me do. Were I to disappear completely, I would at least be proud of what I've left here.

At the risk of sounding sappy, thanks to the dozens of people that actually read this drivel. If anyone has any questions or requests, as part of this wild tenth anniversary celebration, I'll be happy to answer them. Here's to grinding out another ten years and that a twentieth anniversary post can happen with a little more forethought and planning, ideally because ten-year-old and thirteen-year-old daughters should be more manageable.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Me and the Melvins: An Entirely True Story

 (like a damn mug shot)

My earliest memory of the Melvins is being played “Honeybucket” by my uncle Jack. The CD was the first I’d ever seen where the tray of the jewel case WASN’T the standard dull gray color. “Houdini” was bright canary yellow. The packaging stood out wildly amongst a stack of Rage Against the Machine, Primus and Jeff Beck CDs in its midst. The Frank Kozik cover art was arresting, seemingly looking back at a nonexistent idealized 1950’s, but with a technicolor freakishness that was oddly comforting. 

(There was a series of Snapple promotional posters around this same time that made me feel the same way. I’ve struggled to find evidence of these online, I may have some buried in the flat files though. If you have images, I would love to revisit. The Orbit “Orby” magazine logo also fits under this umbrella)

The song was a wild ride. I reckon I’d never heard anything quite like it.

I probably read “Come As You Are” (the Nirvana biography) not long afterward and my interest level in the band was further piqued. I can’t remember if Jack gave me “Houdini" or I stole it or if I even still have it, but “Stoner Witch” was bought next, then a grip of earlier original LPs (“Lysol”, “Bullhead”, all three solo LPs) all from Car City Records in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. There was no real good reason that those titles should’ve still been available new on vinyl around 1996. I don’t believe they were actively in-print. My impression is that by that point, the hipper folks were “done” with “grunge” music, leaving it wide open for wide-eyed teenagers like myself to scoop it up and soak it in.

I first saw the Melvins live at the Shelter in Detroit, Friday September 13th, 1996. Tickets were $10 each. I bought two, one for me and one for Jack. He drove. The band played two sets. The club (with a capacity of 400) was no more than half-full. I was a freshman in high school and this was the second proper “concert” I would attend. I saw Foo Fighters with that dog in March of that year and would see Rage Against the Machine less than one week later. After that, it all becomes a blur for every concert I would see, but I can recall with specificity every time I saw the Melvins. 

In 1997, in the pit at the Shelter, there was a girl standing behind me, slightly older than I was, blatantly rubbing her breasts against my back. Jack, usually observing the show from a safe distance in the back of the room, dipped into the crush of bodies toward the front of the stage just to tell me “You know this girl is rubbing her breasts on you, right?” “Yeah.”  I’d just turned 15. I had no idea what to say or do. I just fucking stood there. Dumb. Mute. Frozen. I caught her eye as she was exiting the club, she had a look on her face as if she had never seen me before AND appeared to be in the company of a boyfriend. I still occasionally think about this incident and all I’m left with is “What in the FUCK was that about?”

I do recall the band referring to “the Insane Clown Pussies” from stage. 

In 1999 I saw them by myself for the first time. I’d just left from a White-Walker Trio rehearsal, I’d missed openers the Cosmic Psychos and the Melvins tour wiki is wrong, the gig took place at the Shelter, not Saint Andrew’s Hall. In 2000 I did see them at Saint Andrew’s, part of the Trilogy 2x4 tour. They covered “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with some unnamed woman (a fan?) on guest vocals. Buzz referenced an iconic male rock star from stage and said if the two had sex it would be “like throwing a hot dog down a hallway…but only because my penis is so small.” I remember being vaguely disappointed by the performance. 

(a decent run of three straight albums)

By early 2001, the Melvins had reached out to the White Stripes to ask them to open some shows for them. Jack didn’t seem to spend too much time on the decision, ultimately thinking that the Melvins crowd would not take kindly to the White Stripes presentation and politely declining the offer. Around this time, I was still running the email announcement list for the White Stripes from my personal AOL account. I was on tour with the Dirtbombs, staying with In the Red Records label owner Larry Hardy at his house. Checking my email, I noticed an email from a “Dr. Crover” that said something along the lines of “Hey, Bummed White Stripes weren’t able to tour with Melvins, but hope to see/meet you sooner than later. Be good. - Dale”


Sure Calvin Johnson emailed a year earlier asking if the White Stripes would do a single on K (to which I audibly screamed “Oh my god!” when I read the email) but this felt different.

(side note: he DEFINITELY ended the email with “Be good.” I thought that was funny and badass and have often appropriated the phrase for my own email use)

My response to Dale went something like this…

“My name is Ben and I run the email list for the White Stripes. Jack and I are both huge fans of the Melvins. I play drums in a band called the Dirtbombs, if you ever see we’re in your town, I would love to meet and say hi.”

We go off to Spaceland, expecting friends the Lost Kids to open and slightly bummed to find out that the Lost Sounds were opening. Flash Express was first of three and I really liked their song “Sneak Around”

(sidenote: I just pulled this song up and listened to it for the first time in at least ten years and it’s still brilliant and cloying but the recorded version erupts into quasi-culminations that didn’t exist live in 2001 and that slightly disappoints me. I remember this being all tense and pent up and THREATENING to explode, but ultimately holding that back. I like that as a songwriting trick.)

Any way, the show at Spaceland was a big deal. Not only was the “label” there (aka, Larry Hardy, one of my mentors in this record biz world) but also Jon Spencer (sans Blues Explosion), Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of the Cramps (who rolled up in badass 1950s Cadillac exactly as you would imagine them), Dave Katznelson, Pearl E. Gates from Pearl Harbor and the Explosions…this being the Dirtbombs first show in Los Angeles, it was vaguely anticipated by what I would estimate as about 50 people.

 (seriously, who let this guy touch these reels?)

We absolutely stunk. I feel like I had trouble hearing things on stage. Some nagging feeling is telling me that I literally forgot how to play “Underdog” in the middle of the song and had to break it down to its simplest kick-snare alternations and feel like a child in doing so. It was terrible, everyone in the band agreed, I ended by absolutely destroying my drum kit (photo from that night attached).

Backstage afterwards, I reluctantly told the rest of the band “I guess I’ll go sell some CDs from the stage.”

With a box of “Ultraglide in Black” at my side, I sadly sold these discs to people who i clearly had disdain for. How could they actually want to buy a CD after such a shitty performance?

In the middle of a transaction a gentleman says to me “I think you sent me an email today.”

“Oh yeah…what’s your name?” I replied.

“Dale.” he said.

HOLY SHIT. My mind was blown. Dude read my email, immediately looked up my band, found out we were playing that night and made his way to check out the show. How fucking cool and classy. I was shocked. Still am reminiscing about it all these years later.

His sole appearance was enough to totally change my perspective and turned that day into one of the more happy accidents in my life.

Dale has since become a dear friend. He saw every Dirtbombs show in Los Angeles for almost ten years. I went to Disneyland with him and his wife and they got me mouse ears with “Benny” embroidered on them. He invited us to play the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival they curated in the UK in 2008. We’ve crashed at his house, he introduced me to Ben Shepherd, he’s hooked me up with untold limited edition Melvins vinyl goodies and in 2013, Third Man put on a Melvins show recorded live direct-to-acetate. After giving Buzz Osbourne a tour of the place, he simply said “You’re doing everything right.”

This is mighty high praise. Buzz does not bullshit or blow smoke. Amongst the many compliments and platitudes that have been heaped upon Third Man over the years, this is one that I hold above just about all the others.

After the show, Buzz came up to me and said “Hey, we own the rights to a bunch of our back catalog. Would you be interested in reissuing it with us?”

“Hell yeah, absolutely. But what’s the deal with your Atlantic albums?”

Buzz went on about how he’d not talked to anyone at Atlantic forever, that anyone they worked with at the time was long gone and fired and that he hadn’t even seen a statement in forever. He also said Ipecac had tried to get the rights to reissue those LPs and they were told in no uncertain terms they would NEVER be able to put them out.

I was young, I was brash, I said “I’ve got some friends over at Atlantic. Let me see if I can make anything happen.”

“Have at it” or something along those lines was his reply.

With approximately one phone call to the wonderful Billy Fields, I was able to find out that while the reissue department of Warner/Elektra/Atlantic was working on plans of a 10” boxset reissue of those titles for Black Friday, since TMR was in touch and working with the band, WEA would nix those plans and let us work on licensing those titles.

(ugh...this dude needs to lose weight, diet starts tomorrow)

Even typing this now, I cannot believe it. What I’ve failed to address until this point in my rambling is how important and canonical all three of these albums are in my formative years on through today. When I’m all alone at a drum kit, it’s quite likely “Spread Eagle Beagle” is one of the first things I will play (that or “Scentless Apprentice”). The smooth, full-range low end of “Lividity” is at the same time funereal and meditational. “The Bloat” still gives me pause whenever I hear it…so sparse, so naked, so vulnerable, yet utterly and completely moving. I wrote bad teenage lyrics using that song as the framework/inspiration that, although the notebook containing them is mere feet from me, I cannot be compelled to share them with you right here. 

The moment the original analog masters for these albums arrived at TMR HQ, I took in a breath of disbelief. I’ve said it time and time again…but I am so absolutely lucky to be in a position to work hands-on with so many records that not only do I love, but are intrinsically important to me. Third Man is a damn dream factory in the regard.

To paraphrase a quote from John Peel regarding the Fall, the worst part of my eventual death is that you can be sure the Melvins will release a new album a few months after I die and I’ll be unable to hear it. On this re-release date of “Houdini”, “Stoner Witch” and “Stag”, let’s have a toast to one of the greatest and most reliable rock bands of all-time and hope for everlasting life, if only to continue to be amazed by their prowess.