Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ramblings, Insight and Admission That I Was Never Legally Old Enough to Enter the Gold Dollar...

This was originally posted behind a paywall regarding the 3 x LP set I helped compile of Jack White and the Bricks, the Go and Two Star Tabernacle. It makes the most sense if you're actually looking at the package while reading this, but if you don't have one, you can always imagine. 

I’m pretty sure this Vault package was my idea. I don’t know if that means I’m taking the blame or the praise, probably little bits of both. But in light of the White Stripes at the Gold Dollar package (#26), it seemed like the time was right to focus on a grip of the other recordings we’d obtained from Neil Yee, the owner/soundman/brains behind the Gold Dollar. We’ve got the Cass Corridor TMR shop up-and-running and a continued focus on the neighborhood and the history there is important to us. The timing felt right.

The easiest part about this package was the Jack White and the Bricks record. As this was never a real band beyond a half-dozen performances in the summer of 1999, there was very little that need to be obtained in terms of opinions and permissions and things of that nature. While an audience recording of this show has existed in tape trading circles since the performance, this multi-track soundboard recording proved revelatory in what had been unheard to my ears since the performance. The opening of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” shined through with Brendan Benson’s striking countermelodies on guitar, all but nonexistent on the audience tape. When the opening lyrics came through I was confused…”Why is Brendan singing?” The delivery is unmistakably him, though through years and years of listening on a lo-fi tape I’d never noticed Brendan sang the first two lines…

Dead leaves and the dirty ground when I know you’re not around
Shiny tops and soda pops when i hear your lips make a sound…

Only to have Jack jump in, with gusto, guts, glory and the response to Brendan’s call..

When I hear your lips make a sound!

I’m not exaggerating here…when I first heard this, clear as daylight, I choked up a bit. I think it’s beautiful and feels like a truly wonderful moment just accidentally happened to be caught on tape that night.

Speaking of that night, although I play drums here, I have very few memories of what happened. Royal Trux, the headliners, were late to arrive. I believe they showed up after we’d finished our set. My mom was there. It was a school night. I was seventeen years old. That’s about it. My entire time in the band I was just making a very poor attempt to play drums like Patrick Keeler. Why I thought I could approximate his style is beyond me, and I often compare myself to Billy Yule playing drums in the last-gasp iteration of the Velvet Underground. I really shouldn’t have been onstage or in this band, but am forever grateful and happy that I was.

The setlist features a couple of songs that aren’t on the Bricks live recording from the Garden Bowl three months prior (Vault #15). “One and Two” is an original Jack White song that never ended up being used or recorded anywhere else, which is odd for him. I particularly enjoy the slippery bass playing of Kevin Peyok on this song and feel like he may well have been the glue that held this band together. “Candy Cane Children” feels odd outside of the context of the White Stripes, especially as they never really performed the song live. “Ooh My Soul” is sloppy sloppy sloppy and in my opinion, the first two chords presage what would come later via “Fell in Love With a Girl."

In terms of ephemera, I dug up the original setlist from paper dungeon in my basement and Jack had the flyer, listing Jack White Band, in his archives. Perfect accompaniment for a band that barely existed. The fact we left behind anything is surprising, the fact that there are two live recordings and a couple of flyers is odd. The fact that we only became known as Jack White and the Bricks AFTER we’d stopped playing is funny. And how that happened…I don’t really know. 

What doesn’t exist of the Bricks is a photo of all of us together. So the pic on the cover here is of myself and Jack from August of that year, onstage at the Gold Dollar as part of the White-Walker Trio. Johnny Walker was the third part of that band. Photo was shot by Monte Dickinson, a more solid dude you will never find, who also played bass in one of the most-overlooked Detroit bands of the era, Poopy Time. They slayed. Maybe someday TMR can do a live album of them at the Gold Dollar.

One of Poopy Time’s honored traditions was their annual Thanksgiving Eve performance at the Gold Dollar. There were recreations of Native Americans exacting revenge on Pilgrims, shadow play behind white sheets set around the stage…pretty high-quality exciting stuff for a club who’s legal capacity was just a shade over 100. One of those Thanksgiving Eve performances also included a performance by the Go. 

Having undergone many line-up changes over the years and enjoying the deluxe 92-song, 5 xcassette box set as released by Burger Records in 2012, the Go is a band that is still criminally underrated. The line-up featured here existed for a few brief months in 1998-99…Bobby Harlow, John Krautner, Marc Fellis, Jack White and Dave Buick. Bobby, John and Marc would be the only real consistent members in the band’s time, Buick would join them on-and-off for years and White played approximately six shows with the band, had writing contributions to three songs and appears on their debut LP “Whatcha Doin.” 

There are other live recordings of this line-up out there, but as audience recordings they leave a lot to be desired. More so than any band in my memory, this line-up of the Go is a prime example of live and studio being two completely separate, somewhat unrelated beasts. To anyone in attendance, the Go show at Motor Lounge in Hamtramck on March 12, 1999 was one of the best live performances ever seen. As a mere sixteen-year-old pup, the visuals of that night are still burned into my retinas and the electric hum of the stage still rings in my eardrum. 

While not as mind-blowing as the Motor show, this recording from the Gold Dollar is an undeniable document of how powerful this band/lineup were. I’d put them up against any other band of that time, I truly think the Go was that explosive. This version of “Meet Me at the Movies” is proof positive. The perfect set-opener. There’s an unreleased studio version of this tune too that absolutely melts. Maybe someday folks will get to hear it. “Long is the Tongue” is a gem that went unreleased until the cassette box and the lyric “long is the tongue for the year twenty-one” has weirdly impressed me since I first heard it. Starting side two is “Turn Your Little Light Bulb On”, the only song 100% written by Jack White for the Go. A studio recording of this, with different lyrics, is featured on the box set, with this live take riffing on the lyrics to Donovan’s “Hey Gyp.” The stinging guitar breakdown here is a showpiece and memory tells me it was particularly well-received by live crowds. Ending with a ballsy take on the Sonic’s “Psycho” it seems like most folks in the band forgot they ever covered this song. I remember at the time Jack saying he wish they played the song more like the Swamp Rats’ version. 

The cover photo here is a masterful live shot by the wonderful Doug Coombe. Shot at the very performance from the recording, Doug only took a few frames of the Go that night and Dave Buick has jokingly (or seriously?) given me shit for not choosing a photo where he’s featured. Unfortunately…Doug failed to get a pic that properly framed all band members in the shot. I’m sure he never thought there’d be a conversation about it fifteen years after the fact.
I don’t have much Go ephemera laying around, but i did have an weird questionnaire they filled out (and never retuned) for a “Local Bands” feature that Liz Copeland was writing for Orbit Magazine back then, so we made a high-quality reproduction of that…particularly hilarious is the band saying “upcoming releases on Flying Bomb and Italy Records” both of which never ended up happening. In a pile of various Go song lyrics, Jack White was in possession of Bobby’s hand-written scribbling of “Long is the Tongue” written on the reverse of Italy Records letterhead. Also scribbled in the corner, in White’s hand, is the then-address for photographer/Dirtbomber Patrick Pantano. 

Bobby Harlow said it best, upon reviewing the recording, “That band sounds good. I’d go see that band."

With Two Star Tabernacle, Third Man had by far the most material to work with. From flyers, to setlists, to photos, to actual performances…figuring out what the present of Two Star was definitely a challenge. First off, Two Star was the only band we had two performances to choose from. We ultimately decided to go with the performance from January 16th, 1998, opening for a local band called Fez. This show was mixed by Neil Yee back then and disseminated to a handful of folks around town…I distinctly remember hearing this version of “Who’s to Say" emanate from the radio during one of Willy Wilson’s Friday midnight to 5am sets on WDET, all groggy and confused how this song by one of my favorite bands that hadn’t released or even recorded anything was somehow being played on the radio.

This version from Neil is quite masterful in its edit, but we had the opportunity to improve on some things and with the approval of the entire band, we did. We included some stage banter that had been previously removed, tightened up the mix, gave the whole thing a little bit of a spit-shine for it’s proper public unveiling.

As I was in possession of the original setlist from the show (included in the package in facsimile form), I was able to discern lots of tidbits and info that had previously been lost to time and Neil’s edit.  First off, “Who’s to Say” cuts in seemingly between beats. The setlist shows that the band actually opened with their cover of Hank Williams’ “Wayfaring Stranger” which failed to be caught on tape. Next up is “Itchy” another Jack White song that never saw life past this specific outfit, full of vim and vigor and unable to be done better by any band he would later be a part of. “Worst Time of My Life” is originally part of the set, but with no one particularly in love with the performance, it was excised. “Garbage Picker” is a classic tune by Dan Miller written in response to his six-year-old next door neighbor who literally exclaimed “garbage picker! garbage picker! garbage picker!” to Dan harmlessly removing something from his rubbish bin. Finishing off side one is an incomplete version of “Heavens to Betsy”, excised from Yee’s original version but restored here as a short peek into one of Two Star’s more raucous songs with hearty drum highlights courtesy of Damian Lang.

Side two starts with “Red Head” and showcases dextrous walking basslines from Tracee Mae Miller, a later, more restrained version of which would later be performed by Dan and Tracee Mae’s outfit Blanche and featured on a compilation called America’s Newest Hitmakers that while featuring the logo of my label Cass Records, I had nothing to do with. (It was completely handled by Loose Music and if someone wants to update Discogs, I would appreciate it). In the performance from January ’98 “Zig Zag Springs” was next, but feeling a bit odd here, we cut it and put it at the beginning of the record. It was a little odd for a set to not start with “Zig Zag” anyway, so we made it more in line with the band’s performances of that time. Followed by a cover of the Minutemen’s “Jesus and Tequila”, the original version was uncomfortably out-of-tune, so we just pulled the version from the Two Star show from September 12th, 1997, also recorded at the Gold Dollar. Much better, much more in tune. Following with the Dan-penned “So Long Cruel World” and wrapping up is a stunning take on Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons.” All in all, a great document of this weird band that never really found its audience but who’s principals later found their audience, both through Blanche and the White Stripes, where some of these songs would later pop up.

Curiously enough there was a flyer for this show (created by headliners Fez) that while leaving a lot to be desired, is pretty special that a dedicated flyer even exists. I do not remember that commonly happening for Gold Dollar shows. Despite the best of Doug Coombe’s work, there’s no real impressive onstage pics of Two Star Tabernacle, so it was decided to use a a shot taken by Jun Pino inside the since-shuttered Kress Lounge on Detroit’s Southwest side. Vibey in all the right way to convey the feeling of this band.

The attention to detail in regards to the entirety of the Two Star portion of the collection stemmed from a comment made by Dan “This is the only thing this band will ever release” and wanting to make it strong and solid and worth the effort, mindful that there was no other recordings of the band to release in the future. While I think we accomplished the goal of making the Two Star set a cracking good LP, in the effort to compile all the band's detritus and ephemera, I did uncover some forgotten recordings of the band. Pretty good renditions and quality fidelity too. Quasi-studio even. Maybe someday we’ll dust those off and see what the public thinks of them. Until then, let these three LPs help tell the story of a heady time some sixteen years ago. I sincerely hope you enjoy them.

Ben Blackwell
Psychedelic Stooge
April 8, 2016

Post Script:

The photos of the Gold Dollar used here were taken by myself sometime in late 2007 or early 2008. After the filming of the White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights documentary, the filmmakers asked me if I could help and provide some photos of spots in Detroit that Jack and Meg talked about in the interview portion of the film. Mainly…Chung’s Chinese restaurant and the final remnants of Detroit’s Chinatown neighborhood, the house at 1203 Ferdinand (where De Stijl and many other titles were recorded) and the Gold Dollar. If memory serves, I believe that the painted Gold Dollar logo on the front and side of the building had been vandalized or graffitied since the bar had closed in August 2001. I’m not quite sure when Neil sold the building, but I’m almost positive the new owners repainted/touched-up that logo. Nevertheless, I was happy to capture pics of an empty building that had already been vacant for six years, which is considerably “brief” in terms of Detroit real estate. (Much credit to Ryon Nishimori for his masterful Photoshop job eliminating the cars in the parking lot…he’s so good that I didn’t even remember there were ever cars there to begin with!) That building is STILL empty, supposedly owned by a local pizza joint, but with the logos since painted over and a caved-in roof. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point folks to the insanely interesting LGBT history of that building, please do check it out, semi-NSFW in a wholesome 1960s sort of way...

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Distinctive Stock Record Fronts For You To Personalize...

Found deep in the bowels of Nashville Record Productions, this four-page sales brochure displays a cornucopia of stock art available for custom LP jackets. I can spot the art for Flex Your Head (two pressings!), The Atlantics Live at the Nite Lite, Hilss and Lablanc A Time Lost and Charles Pryor and Kream's Skin Hot record, just to name a few.

Feel free to use, repost, share and if necessary, use for your own upcoming release. If you wanna call out specific releases and what jacket they employed, well that would be cool too.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

When You Find Shit in Your Basement and There's Some Vague Importance Attached

While digging through my archives recently, I found an unassuming scrap of paper. While this should be otherwise forgettable, the fact that said party is the only party I've ever not been allowed into or immortalized in an illustrated video gives me enough reason to share here. Google Street View shows a structure exactly as I remember it from over 15 years ago. Standing on the porch, party clearly blazing, being told there was actually no party going on and then sitting in a minivan in the driveway, trying to make sense of what actually happened are not exactly fond memories, but they are memories nonetheless. Please enjoy this completely unnecessary exercise.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Is This Alice Coltrane? Or Dorothy Ashby? Or None of the Above?

This recent find on eBay caught my Cass Tech in Detroit is the only high school I've ever heard of having a harp class, I was intrigued. Never mind the fact it's erroneously listed as "Cash" tech (although that sounds like a badass late 80's rap group name).

Further more, knowing said program produced two world class harpists (Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane), I thought it was interesting that there's a lone African-American student in the class.

Personally, I don't think it's Ashby. The facial features appear too dissimilar. But maybe, just maybe, it could be Alice Coltrane, who at the time would've been known as Alice McLeod. She would've been a student at Cass during the first half of the 1950's. Ashby would've been at Cass in the early/mid 40's.

It's difficult to find in-depth info for Alice's Detroit years and even more so to dig up any photos of that time. I don't have access to any old Cass yearbooks down here in Nashville, so any enterprising sleuths in the 313 are encouraged to explore. Below is a more-detailed view of the student in question. Any insight or light to shed on the situation, let it fly in the comments.

PS. Cass Tech supposedly still has at least one of the harps that both Ashby and Coltrane would've been taught on. Too damn cool.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

More Art to Choke On...

A full Blackwell family collaboration graces the latest "issue" of Bagazine (#6). Order at the link below.


Monday, October 19, 2015

You Say It's Your Birthday...

Last week I celebrated my 33 and 1/3rd birthday with a DJ set at Duke's in East Nashville.

Funnily enough, I focused on 7" 45rpm singles for the occasion. An Elvis impersonator showed up, he gave me a scarf. A good time was had by all.

Below is a list of the songs I played, in order, all on original issue 7" unless otherwise noted

Grounded - Belita Woods
Hook and Sling Part 1 - Eddie Bo
Peace Loving Man - Blossom Toes
She's Lost Control - Grace Jones
Killing an Arab - The Cure
The Way (You Touch My Hand) - The Revelons
The Model - Kraftwerk
Warm Leatherette - The Normal
She Was a Mau-Mau - The's
Big Damn Roach - The Immortal Lee County Killers
Born in '69 - Rocket From the Crypt
You'll Be Mine - Howlin' Wolf
That's Alright - Elvis Presley
Black Man (Too Tough To Die) Part 1 - Cleo Page
Do the Du - A Certain Ratio (Soul Jazz pressing)
Clones (We're All) - Alice Cooper
The Gorilla - The Ideals (Norton pressing)
Cry Girl - The Kandells
Microphone Fiend - Eric B. & Rakim
Spread Your Love - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Highway 61 (Going Back to Memphis) - 20 Miles
Galang - M.I.A.
I Don't Wanna Be No Personal Pizza - Personal and the Pizzas
(I'm) Stranded - The Saints (Sire promo EP)
Born to Wander - Jack Wood (repressing)
White Horse - Laid Back
I Fought a Crocodile - Jacuzzi Boys
See Me Mariona - Brian Olive
Electric Feel - MGMT
Dog on Wheels - Belle & Sebastian
Hanging on the Telephone - The Nerves
Human Fly - The Cramps
Ode to Clarissa - Queens of the Stone Age
The End of the Night - The Greenhornes
Wasted - Black Flag (white/red sleeve)
Idol with the Golden Head - The Coasters
Baby Go! - Fireworks
Stranded in the Jungle - The Jayhawks
Primitive - The Groupies
Gloves - The Horrors
No Love Lost - Joy Division/Warsaw (bootleg pressing)
Riot in Cell Block #10 - The Upholsterers
Born to Cry - The Hives
I Heard it Through the Grapevine - The Slits
Moody - E.S.G.
Tainted Love - Gloria Jones (bootleg pressing)
Wanna Be Startin' Something - Michael Jackson
Rock Lobster - The B-52's
Jiggle City - Noot D' Noot
You Dropped a Bomb on Me - The Gap Band
Me Quieres - Chica Vas
The Funky Sixteen Corners - The Highlighters (Stones Throw Pressing)
Psychotic Reaction - Senor Soul
Shack Up - Banbarra
I Want Some - Make-Up
Single Again - The Fiery Furnaces
Cellphone's Dead - Beck
Rapture - Blondie
You Don't Look So Good - Dead Combo
Killing Flaw - Benjamin Prosser & the Tap Collective
It's My Life - Crushed Butler (Windian pressing...did this ever come out on 45 originally?)
Who Was in My Room Last Night? - Butthole Surfers
Moist Vagina - Nirvana
Keep a Knockin' - Little Richard
Snake Pit - Gunga Din
The Public Hanging of a Movie Star - Jonathan Fire Eater
Then He Kissed Me - The Crystals
Baby - Donnie & Joe Emerson (Light in the Attic single)
Journey in Satchidananda (part two) - Alice Coltrane
Chick Habit - April March
Son of Sam - Chain Gang
Bullet - The Misfits
Circle One - The Germs
Politicians in My Eyes - Death
It's Lame - Figures of Lights
To Find Out - The Keggs
(I'm) Chewin Gum - Creme Soda
Agitated - Electric Eels
Love Buzz - Shocking Blue (Music of Vinyl pressing...did this ever come out on 45 originally?)
Complication - The Monks
Mama's Mad Cos I Fried My Brains - Turbo Fruits
Just Like An Aborigine - The Up
Ghost Rider - Suicide
Little Johnny Jewel Part One - Television
2+2=? - Bob Seger System
You Burn Me Up and Down - We The People
Monkey Wrench - Foo Fighters
It Fit When I Was a Kid - Liars
Camel Walk (live) - Southern Culture on the Skids
Orgasm Addict - Buzzcocks
October Fires - Wolf People
Don't Shake Me Down - Ronnie Putirka
The Search for Cherry Red - The Kills
Love Missile F1-11 - Sigue Sigue Sputnik
Hot for Preacher - The Starlite Desperation
100% - Sonic Youth
Pablo Picasso - The Modern Lovers
The Letter - PJ Harvey
A Girl Named Sandoz - Eric Burdon and the Animals
Think About It - The Yardbirds
The Wizard - Black Sabbath
Tired of Waiting for You - The Kinks
Looking at You - MC5 (A2 version)
Ich-i-Bon #1 - Nick and the Jaguars
Hotwire My Heart - Crime
(Ben, Elvis and Sun 209)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Afterword for the Orbit Magazine Anthology...

I'm still flabbergasted that my writing actually made it into this book. Orbit was instrumental in shaping my outlook on the world and I feel privileged to play even a small part in this collection. To this day, an oversized decal of the timeless Orby head logo sits perched high in my office, hopefully instilling even the tiniest bit of inspiration on my daily work.

For all things Orbit book-related, visit 

Don't just be a freeloader, buy one!


Nigh-on twenty years later, it's impossible to relay just how difficult it seemed to access and truly connect with media as a teenager in the mid-Nineties.  Without a car, one was left grasping in the dark at any tiny countercultural crumb that might accidentally end up in the daily newspapers or television.
One issue of Orbit Magazine would serve as an instant and invaluable cornucopia of wide-ranging peculiarities while never kowtowing to anyone or pulling any punches. Orbit always gave off the impression that they were doing exactly what the fuck they wanted to and that is decidedly difficult.
No sacred cows. No untouchables. Nothing off-limits. Everyone and everything is fair game for skewering. When your rules are the cliché "no rules" it truly gives a clean slate for something unique, fresh, important and artful to happen. While in other hands such free reign would quickly descend into mindless jibber-jabber, with Jerry Peterson and Orbit it evolved into a finely honed craft…never too childish yet never too serious. Orbit struck a wonderful balance between the absurd and the insightful without ever sacrificing a laugh.
Orbit operated as my own personal internet…a concentrated hub of all that seemed interesting and odd and funny and subversive and informative…a full decade before the Internet truly became what it is today. It explicitly informed me of what was cool and what was lame. To accomplish what Orbit did in the terribly reactionary format of a monthly tabloid-size newsprint? That is no easy feat. To be free on top of that? How did this thing ever exist for even one issue, let alone nine years?
I got my copies mainly from Hong Kong Chop Suey, the carry-out Chinese restaurant from a forgotten era a mere 15-second sprint from the house I grew-up in. If the usually spot-on first of the month delivery was late, I'd get testy. If delivery was while the restaurant was closed (and thus just a pile of zip-tied pile copies sitting in front of their door) I'd cut the tie myself and slip out a copy, clearly unable to wait.
Every new issue was a gateway into a world of excitement. One never knew what to expect and I can't say I was ever disappointed. It was the embodiment of cool culture wrapped with eye-catching graphics and whip-smart design.
In all my years I will never encounter a more-memorable specimen of journalism than the final issue of Orbit. While most folks' nature is to make goodbye an amiable, saccharine affair there was no such intention from Jerry and Orbit. What'd he use his bully-pulpit to accomplish? To call out every deadbeat advertiser they'd ever dealt with and rip on them mercilessly while doing so. If that's not enough, the claim that they'd set an unstated number of ads for that final issue and that if they'd reached it, the magazine would remain in print. The kicker was that they missed their supposed goal by one ad. Who do they lay the blame on? YOU! The lazy sod who didn't place an ad. Your favorite publication could've been saved. Too bad. You lose. We all lose.
As bummed as I was when they closed up shop, I'm glad it did. I don't think Orbit would've been able to compete or be as fresh as it was much longer. They went out on their own terms.
Reading this back to my wife, Malissa, a fellow Orbit devotee, her initial comment is "That's all great…but it sounds like adult Ben talking." True, I am now nearly twice the age I was when Orby ceased publication. Something that'd likely come from 15-year-old me…
Holy shit! This book is hilarious! And it has facts!

I’m lucky, you’re lucky, we’re all lucky to have all these morsels here in one place for our reminiscence and enjoyment. Back in the 90’s, I was ecstatic with one issue a month.