Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Retro Album Review: UFO: Walk On Water,1995

Walk On Water
Released 1995
Good luck finding it on Amazon Marketplace or eBay!

I discovered Walk On Water a few months ago after cruising Youtube for UFO videos. The first studio album with Michael Schenker on guitar since 1978 eluded me when it was first released. That’s probably because Nine Inch Nails and alt-rock were my chosen musical milieu at the time. Had someone told me UFO and Schenker were back together, I would have dismissed the information with “Are those guys still around?” Ahh, the follies of youth.   

Now wiser and more open minded, I decided to listen to the album. I wasn’t expecting much, because the facts didn’t sound promising. A 1970s hard rock band’s classic line-up reassembles 17 years later, reuniting guitarist and singer who hated each other; the musical climate has changed, leaving hard rock forgotten by the mainstream; you’re older, they’re older, and so on and so on. It seemed like a set up for disappointment.

Boy, was I wrong! You know what happens when you assume. Walk On Water is a fitting follow-up to Obsession, the last Schenker-era studio album. Produced by Ron Nevison, who helmed Lights Out, Strangers in the Night and Obsession, this album packs a wallop. The classic‘70s lineup is here -  Schenker, Mogg, Way, Raymond and Parker. They all hung around for a few years of touring except Parker, who was replaced by Simon Wright for live shows. 

Schenker’s guitar playing on Walk on Water is as mesmerizing as ever, reeling you in from the first crunchy riff on the album opener, “Self-Made Man”. It’s like time stood still. The song is an indictment of greedy businessmen, with fierce vocals to match on the verses, and a softer, meditative chorus. This song has some of Mogg’s best lyrics and it’s become one of my favorite UFO songs. “Venus” is an ode to the ups and downs of love, with a pristine, melodic solo from Schenker.

The songs deal with more grown-up concerns, as the band members were around mid-life crisis age in 1995. “Pushed to the Limit” rages against the sands of time going through the hourglass “My doctor says it ain't right/For a man my age to fight”, Mogg proclaims, not ready for the rocking chair by a long shot. Schenker’s razor-sharp riffs are a perfect complement to the lyrics. “Running on Empty” covers the same subject matter with a bit of romance and sexy, bluesy guitar. The evil ex wife in “Knock,Knock” gets the house and the car and is back for more.

 “Dreaming of Summer” is a haunting tale of an unemployed man watching his life slip away.  It’s a real-life scenario a lot of people can identify with, balanced by Schenker’s tasteful acoustic guitar. It’s WOW’s “Love to Love.” Spiritual and uplifting despite the title, “Darker Days” is melodic rock at its best – once you hear it, it’s hard to get it out of your head.  

“Stopped (By a Bullet of Love)” seems to be about picking up and falling in love with a girl at a bar. What inspired it?  Never ask about a song’s backstory, just enjoy it. You may discover things you’d be better off not knowing. And what’s that bit about Arizona? Didn’t Schenker live in Arizona for awhile?

There are new versions of “Doctor Doctor” and “Lights Out” to end the album, but why try to improve on perfection?

I find myself playing this as much as Obsession or Lights Out. Despite the album’s quality, I have no interest in listening to the two reunion albums that followed - the one side live/one side original album Covenant and the all-original Sharks. The latter sounds a little too Spinal Tap-ish for my comfort, so I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

Twenty years have passed since Walk on Water. The reunion ended in the early ‘00s because, as the saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

                                                                 Late 1970s UFO
Everyone’s doing great staying far away from one another as they enter their (semi) retirement years. Pete Way beat cancer and he’s working on his solo album, and both Mikey and UFO are touring non-stop. We have more musical output and nobody is getting punched in the stomach or storming offstage.    

Present-day UFO fares well with Vinnie Moore on guitar, but that je ne sais quoi (we know who that is) is missing. The synergy between Mogg, Schenker, Way, Raymond and Parker was absolutely electric back in the day. Another reunion is unlikely, but we’ll always have our memories.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

DVD Review : The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years

                                                               Faster Pussycat

After remaining in official release limbo for decades, The Decline of Western Civilization: Part II: The Metal Years is now available as part of a  4 DVD (or Blu Ray) set of all three Decline movies directed by Penelope Spheeris – the original documentary about L.A.’s late ‘70s punk scene, the third installment, released in 1998, about gutterpunks in Hollywood and Decline II, about 80s Sunset Strip metal (aka hair metal). The set has a fourth DVD featuring additional footage from the documentaries.

The first and third documentaries dealt with Hollywood punk rockers, homeless or otherwise, and Decline II, the trio’s red-headed stepchild, looks at the style over substance days of Sunset Strip hair metal. The documentary features stars and wanna-bes of the Sunset Strip scene, fans, DJs, club owners, and several hard rock stars from the 1970s/early 1980s.

Spheeris interviews hard rock/metal icons who influenced the younger musicians hope to emulate. A chatty, level-headed Ozzy fixes breakfast and warns fledgling bands “Be nice to everyone on the way up, cause you’ll see them on the way down.” The L.A. skyline gleams in the background as Lemmy talks about going for your dreams. Paul Stanley lies on a bed draped with groupies. Gene Simmons is surrounded by girls in lingerie buying lingerie. Alice Cooper notes "Punk (rock) was getting to be techno.. metal saved rock 'n' roll for the '80s." and Steve Tyler and Joe Perry talk about the millions they made and blew on cocaine.

                                                             Ozzy in the kitchen

In her June 17, 1988 review, the New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote, 

In Miss Spheeris's earlier hell-in-a-handbasket documentary, the original ''Decline of Western Civilization'' about punk rockers, the brainpower quotient was somewhat higher than it is among heavy-metal fans. That's one reason that the new film is both so funny and so sad. For all the amusingly fatuous remarks heard here -and Miss Spheeris has a great ear for these - the overriding dimness of most of the fans and musicians is frightening.”

Giving the metal kids the benefit of the doubt, a filmmaker can spin the subject anyway he or she wants with leading questions and selective editing. Maybe there were smart kids who didn’t make the final cut or weren’t interested in being interviewed. If there were any honor students prowling the Strip circa 1987, they kept their IQs well under wraps. One of the featured bands, Seduce, seemed pretty pragmatic about the whole scene, including groupies. This earthiness didn’t translate into success or infamy. They released two albums on small labels, and are now nowhere to be found. Spheeris saves the only thrash band (and the smartest of the film's new bands) -Megadeth - for the end of the film.  Dave Mustaine may be many things, but he's no dummy. (Check out the extended interview with him in the bonus DVD.)

The newer bands have the gift of gab, but their subject matter is somewhat limited. There’s Nadir D'Priest and the band London, “the training school for rock stars” (Izzy Stradlin and Nikki Sixx, among others, went on to fame after leaving the group). They’re party monsters, but they come with a warning, as one bandmember exclaims “We are not role models for your life.” Odin, whose singer is touted as the next David Lee Roth, cavort in a hot tub with groupies, contemplating what will become of them if they don’t hit it big. Poison, whose first album was a platinum success, seem likeable and well-grounded in this early stage of their career. (The years, as we know, have not been kind.)  


As for Decline II’s girls of the Sunset Strip, the female musicians (Vixen, Jaded Lady) are just as ambitious but not quite as dim as some of their male counterparts. The female fans are another story. The girls participating in the Gazarri Dance Contest seem happy to strip, I mean, gyrate, for the ogling hair metal judges. The reigning “Miss Gazarri” says she hopes to continue with her modeling and “actressing” after  she passes on her crown. (Christina Applegate allegedly based her Married with Children character Kelly Bundy on this aspiring thespian.) 

The onstage segments with London, Lizzy Borden, Odin and Faster Pussycat make the viewer ponder “So is this is what an NC-17 Spinal Tap would look like.”  London’s singer finally lights a Soviet flag on fire after a few miscues, and the band’s political anthem, “Russian Winter” won’t put Bob Dylan or Neil Young out of business. The extra interview footage  has several X-rated revelations. (Now where was that chain hidden again?) 

Decline II’s most infamous interview, with W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes, shows the dark underbelly to all the leather and studs bravado. Soused to the gills, Holmes sits in a raft in his swimming pool chugging from a bottle of vodka while his Mom looks on pool side. He jokes about groupies, being an alcoholic, and proclaims, “I’m a piece of crap.” Spheeris asks, “Think you might drink because you’re covering up pain?” “Yeah,” Chris answers, then dunks under the water, evading any self-analysis. (Watch the unedited interview on the bonus disc til the bitter end to feel really uncomfortable.) Update: Chris relocated to France and is still touring, recording, and making music videos. His latest album has the delightful title Shittin' Bricks

It’s easy to dismiss metal bands of the ‘80s Sunset Strip based on their looks and image. Most of these bands had musical skills and could entertain an audience. Unfortunately, 90% of them didn’t do anything but blindly follow the Aqua-netted path Motley Crue had paved (and not as well). Money talks – that’s one of the differences between the metal rockers in “Decline II” and the punk rockers in “Decline I”. In the original Decline, the kids made music their way and embraced rebellion against the norm. In Decline II, it was all about fame and money.

The fans and groupies who lived the scene look back at the time fondly. To the causal observer, it was a gold mine for derision and acerbic, play by play music video commentary. After awhile, even disparaging the bands got monotonous. There wasn’t a lot of deviation from the fluffy-haired sex and partying formula, and hair metal succumbed to overexposure (and grunge) around 1991.

Highly recommended as a reminder of the “What were they thinking?” 1980s, Decline II is all sex and drugs, alcohol and ambition, with none of the cerebral or societal discourse of Decline I or III. But sometimes, as another ‘80s icon sang, girls (and boys) just wanna have fun .

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Runaways Bassist Jackie Fox: Kim Fowley Raped Me in 1975

Jackie Fox of the Runaways : Manager Kim Fowley Raped Me - The Huffington Post

Women, and especially teenage girls, had NO voice in the 1970s and for a good part of the 1980s regarding sexual assault. Even strong, ambitious women and girls could be at the mercy of a powerful (or conniving) man and wouldn’t be believed by anyone. Things started to change in the 1990s.

Kim Fowley, the Runaways manager, was given a pass for his behavior by many in the music scene because he was a colorful character and an all-around advocate for rock ‘n’ roll. While he seemed like a charismatic, but somewhat grating, huckster from afar, many people throughout the decades have related stories about being victimized/almost victimized or just plain creeped out by his behavior. (Read some of the comments underneath the article.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Single Review : Steve Hooker: Otis Lift Me/ Toots Shuffle

Otis Lift Me/Toots Shuffle
Pimphouse Records

This single from rockabilly guitarist Steve Hooker (formerly of The Heat and Boz and the Bozmen) has all the bluesy swagger we’ve come to expect from him. 

Both cuts are winners for fans of blues and rockabilly or anybody who likes to rock out.  Side A - Otis Lift Me is an infectious tune that will have you bopping around in no time.

Side B - Toots Shuffle is heavier, and boasts crunchy, commanding riffs. It’s an instrumental slow grind, with some down ‘n’ dirty harmonica spicing up the proceedings. 

Steve’s band tours extensively throughout the UK and Europe. Go to to buy a copy of the single or check out tour dates.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Book Review: Candy Darling: Memoirs of an Andy Warhol Superstar by Candy Darling

Candy Darling by Candy Darling

 Memoirs of an Andy Warhol Superstar
 Open Road Media 

Candy Darling, Warhol superstar and one of the subjects of Lou Reed’s 1973 hit Walk on the Wild Side, fulfilled her dream of becoming a “movie star”, but in quite a different way than the Hollywood stars she idolized as a child. Along with Warhol’s other “chicks with dicks”, Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis, Candy brought the drag/trans underworld out of the shadows and into the gossip columns.  Candy Darling: Memoirs of an Andy Warhol Superstar traces Candy’s journey from Massapequa Park to Manhattan and Warhol’s Factory in her own words. This short book is a collection of journal entries and stream of consciousness tidbits compiled from Candy’s notebooks.

Born in Long Island as James L. Slattery, to Theresa and Jim Slattery, young Jimmy was an outsider in cookie-cutter suburbia as a child. His mother Theresa worked for the phone company and divorced his father, an abusive alcoholic, when Jimmy was in grade school. Young Jimmy poured over movie magazines and idolized the female stars of the time, especially Kim Novak. There are a few journal entries from his school days,(“I am in homeroom now. There’s a bunch of chicks in here but they all hate me. Someday I’ll be a movie star and that’s it! I’ll be rich and famous and have all the friends I want.”) He studied cosmetology and eventually made his way to Manhattan, where he underwent hormone therapy.

Now recreated as Candy Darling, she frequented gay bars and eventually met Andy Warhol. Warhol cast her in Flesh and later Women in Revolt aka Sex. After a few theater credits (Tennessee Williams wrote a part in one of his plays for her), bit parts in the mainstream films Klute and Lady Liberty followed. Candy never got the film role she  wanted most of all though – Myra Breckenridge. She passed away at 30 from lymphoma, as a result of the estrogen injections she received.    

Candy Darling’s preface, written by documentary filmmaker James Rasin (Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar and a introduction/setup by Candy’s friend Jeremiah Newton, familiarizes us with the subject. The entries from Candy’s journals include make-up tips, shopping lists, recipes and letters to friends. Candy writes about her struggles with identity, ambition to become a movie star, and the heartbreak and loneliness of being a transsexual. (She appears not to have any great love of her life). Despite her status as a Warhol superstar and fixture in the backroom of Max’s Kansas City, she had no money and slept on friends’ couches. Being a New York cult figure in the ‘60s and ‘70s made you famous; it didn’t necessarily make you rich.

“They don’t show love in movies anymore, just sex and violence. A man and woman are no longer idealized in pictures but they are shown as a couple of dogs in heat. ”Candy Darling

 Unpublished photo of Candy on the cover of Cosmo

Candy channeled her childhood idol Kim Novak and added a bit of Marilyn Monroe’s vulnerability to her persona. She exuded femininity and charm;when she was fully made-up and “on” strangers had no idea she had been born a man.

 Did anybody really know what a transgender person was in the early ‘70s? That’s probably one of the reasons Walk on the Wild Side became a hit. The public at large didn’t know (or didn’t care) what the lyrics meant.   

Well, maybe some people did. My Mom took me aside and asked me if I knew what Walk on the Wild Side was about. At 13 years old, my girlfriends and I knew the song’s meaning even without the media telling us – and we didn’t even know any gay people. Maybe all those underground zines we got through mail order enlightened us.

It was quite a different world 50 years ago. Now we have Bruce Jenner, Chaz Bono and transgendered teens constantly profiled on Yahoo news next to baseball scores. Back in the day it the different story, as Candy Darling’s colorful but tragic tale attests.  

Amazon Link: 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How I Became a Hollywood Punk Rocker

                                                  Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs

When I moved to Los Angeles (for the first time) in 1983, hard rock was my music of choice - hard rock as in Judas Priest, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, the Scorpions and UFO. I’d heard the Troubadour was the club for metal bands, so I decided to hang out there. Boy, was I in for a surprise! To a kid from the South Side of Chicago, seeing a metal band in a club meant dressing in jeans, a halter top and sneakers, having a few cheap beers and listening to some bluesy hard rock.

Little did I know I would stumble upon the birth of hair metal. The first time I walked into the place, only my platinum blond, permed hair fit in with the unofficial dress code. Seeing a bunch of musicians and clubgoers in leather, spandex, eye shadow and teased hair was nothing new to me. I was in junior high when glam rock was popular, and the first thing I said when I saw the back cover of Motley Crue’s EP Too Fast for Love in ’82 was “How cool! They look like the metal version of the New York Dolls.” I didn’t see Motley Crue at the Troubadour. The only time I ever saw them play was at the US Festival in May of ’83.

 Many of the bands I did see at the Troubadour were weak hybrids of the Crue and Van Halen. Many of them had a David Lee Roth impersonator as lead singer. This was understandable at the time, given Van Halen’s popularity. A blond dye job and obnoxious attitude by themselves did not make a convincing DLR clone, however. Dave dressed in assless chaps, “forgot the fuckin’ words”, banged a lotta girls and did a lot of coke, but he had a sense of humor, which his imitators lacked.

A few months after I moved to LA, I found out Vince Neil was going to join a band called Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs at the Cathay de Grande, a punk rock club in Hollywood. The club was within walking distance of my apartment (i.e. weekly hotel room), so I checked it out. 

I walk downstairs to join about 10 other people in a basement club. The ceiling looks like it is about to fall down and this pudgy guy with dirty blonde hair  -Top Jimmy - is onstage, singing the blues. Everyone was dressed down, with clothes not from a leather shop or Trashy Lingerie, but from the Salvation Army. I strike up a conversation with the kid next to me, who was outfitted in a plaid shirt, homemade bondage pants and Doc Martens.

I look up to see Vince Neil onstage with Jimmy. I didn’t recognize Vince at first cause without his stage gear, he looked like a fresh-faced 16 year old with perfect platinum blond hair. Then he started singing.

Damn, he could actually sing- he had a bellowy, bluesy voice.  It wasn’t at all like his Motley Crue screech ‘n’ scream vocals. This stellar display of bluesmanship didn’t last long, as Vince left the stage after a few numbers -or was it just one? It’s been a long time.

After Vince left, I bounded up the stairs, but was intercepted by a few of the club’s
patrons. By the time the night was over I had a new musical hangout. I made more friends and had more involved conversations the first few weeks at the Cathay than I had in months at the Troubadour. 

                                                  Not the shirt I had, but a reasonable facsimile

My musical transition was complete. I still kept my favorite T-shirt- a sleeveless white T-shirt with a  drawing of the Crue I got on Hollywood Blvd. I wonder if I would have discovered the Cathay, Top Jimmy and punk rock if Vince Neil hadn't sung with Jimmy that night. I guess you could say I became a Hollywood punk rock because of Vince Neil. (And, yes, I still like Motley Crue and heavy metal. I'm an equal opportunity listener.)   

After my introduction to Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, I traded in Aqua Net for Blue Mondays and my new punk rock friends. Many L.A. musicians and celebrities hung out at the Cathay – the members of X, the Minutemen, Nina Hagen, Jane Wiedlin, Timothy Leary, David Lee Roth, etc, and I met a few of them. And I met the infamous Mentors,  stars of the 1985 PMRC hearings there. And, yes, Top Jimmy was the inspiration for the Van Halen song. Sadly, Jimmy passed away in 2001

There was so much going on in the L.A. club scene then - Goths at the Batcave, the metal stuff on the strip and punk and its offshoots pretty much everywhere. Performance art and poetry readings were included at most of the clubs (except the metal ones). What a great time to be a carefree 20something in Hollywood!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Movie Review: Groupie Girl (aka I Am a Groupie) - British Psych-Pop Cinema, 1970

Not every girl who fancied musicians during the 1960s and early 1970s had the charisma or marketing chutzpah of Pamela Des Barres or Cynthia Plaster Caster. Girls competed for the attention of rock musicians the way girls vie for the attention – and pocketbooks - of entrepreneurs today. Most of the' 60s /'70s groupies, didn’t get a payoff or career boost, unlike today’s girls. No, they were just in it for the adventure. And some of those adventures weren’t much fun.

I Am A Groupie (aka Groupie Girl) is a depressing recreation of the late '60s/ early '70s groupie scene. The screenplay co-written by Derek Ford and Suzanne Mercer. Mercer was a former groupie for the 2nd tier British glam band Juicy Lucy, so that may be one of the reasons this movie is so realistic. It plays out like a dreary, low-rent version of Almost Famous.

Bored small town girl Sally (Esme Johns) attends a rock show and stays in the local dancehall after her friends have caught the last bus home. She likes the looks of the band’s lead singer, and stows away into their van while they load up after the gig. Sally hides in the back until halfway through the trip and suddenly introduces herself to the band. They aren’t too happy to see her, but make the most of it. When the band gets to their destination, it’s not exactly the Riot House on Sunset. In a bleak overhead shot, we see Sally walking around naked in the middle of four twin mattresses, each with one of the band members. But there’s no morning shag for her; she’s ordered to get the band coffee and cornflakes.  

There's not much of an emphasis on music in Groupie Girl. The original music is instantly forgettable. All the songs sound like watered-down Badfinger or the B-side from a 1970ish one-hit wonder band.
Sally wanders lackadaisically through the movie - or maybe the character is just supposed to be permanently stoned. Sally does ingest an entire hash cake near the end of the film, She passes out and avoids getting hauled off to jail with the band and another groupie. She wakes up and wanders into a room where a nice folk musician plays guitar. He  warns her that she’s just being used and will be tossed aside. At the film’s end, we find out he’s just as big of a jerk as the other blokes.   

 The only other female characters in the film are groupies, and catfights resulting in nudity ensue. There’s a sex party scene orchestrated by an older guy, who convinces the hippie kids it will be fun. One of the band members slyly avoids a pushy older woman, who’s obviously after him, during the free-for-all. In another scene, Sally is demoted to #3 groupie as one of the band members dallies with twins.  

In a final humiliation, she is, quite literally, passed from one band to another in one scene with tragic consequences. This leads to a cover-up by the band’s sleazy manager – and Sally is sent packing by film’s end.

Groupie Girl is a somber and interesting period piece – much more watchable than you might expect, given the subject matter. It’s Brit-psych exploitation with a serious thread running through it. It reminds me of Up the Junction and other films about working-class England in the '60s and '70s more than soft core exploitation. Groupie Girl bears no resemblance to the free-spirited “the music is all that matters”/"I'm a muse" credo of Almost Famous. The groupie scene in this film is the flipside to all that feel-good, Band-Aid glamour. You can watch the movie for free on YouTube. (see below)