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 .blogspot.com 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”

I. COULD. NOT. BELIEVE. IT. 

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.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Trap Set Interview

A delightfully intriguing interview here which manages to touch on subjects that don't seem to be brought up in other interviews. Worth the half-hour...donate too!


http://www.thetrapset.net/085-ben-blackwell-the-dirtbombs-jack-white-cass-records-third-man-recordsf/

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Bad Weekend for eBay Losses...


All three of these records need to stop acting like they're worth $300 more than they actually are. This be bullshit.

I'm gonna go blow some extra money on $2 Michigan country 45s now. I'm coming back swinging.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Two Hours of Me Playing Records and Running My Mouth...

Playing original 7" pressings exclusively from my "In Case of Emergency" box, which incidentally, I grabbed at the last minute in quasi-emergency of being unsure as to what to play for this occasion.

Listen to two hours of me straight kicking it. Unsurprisingly, it is not difficult for me to talk about vinyl.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Where Will the Vinyl Industry Be?

Hear a bunch of dudes talking about vinyl. Myself included. Exactly what the world needs more of. Enjoy?

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...