Saturday, April 7, 2018

Subterranean Singles: Third Part Of Three

Will Shatter
(photo by Bruce Conner)
Imagine if Dangerhouse, Slash, and LAFMS had all been one label.  Throw in Happy Squid and Independent Project.  That is essentially what Subterranean Records was for San Francisco in the 1980's and early 90's. 

The definitive history of the SF scene in the 80's is yet to be written. Gimme Something Better is an excellent book, but it's both too much and not enough. By covering two decades, it moves quickly "from the Fab Mab to Gilman Street" and I'd love to read more about the former and less about the latter. If someone like Joe Carducci, Jon Savage or V.Vale would excavate Steve Tupper's Subterranean warehouse and catalog its contents -- that's a book I'd pay good money to read.
Monte Cazazza

In 1982, Subterranean went big with the album Generic Flipper. Flipper was a band that both made money and cost money for the label. Read this MRR interview for details. Another big release from '82 was the Chrome Box.  The duo of Damon Edge and Helios Creed added the rhythm section of John and Hilary Stench (aka John and Hilary Hanes), who were former members of SF's Pearl Harbor And The Explosions.  After Damon split for Europe, Helios released two solo albums on Subterranean. Damon Edge died in 1995. Helios Creed is touring in 2018 with a new lineup of Chrome.

Mike Fox
(photo by Jeanne Hansen)
Subterranean co-founder Mike Fox formed Code Of Honor with members of Sick Pleasure and Society Dog. Code Of Honor made a split LP with Sick Pleasure, and an LP of its own, Beware The Savage Jaw. The nihilistic Sick Pleasure was the flip side of Code Of Honor's worldview, but shared the same rhythm section and guitarist (Fox). Code Of Honor singer Johnithin Christ died in 2009. Sick Pleasure frontman Nicki Sicki is still singing for Texas hardcore band Verbal Abuse.

Tana Emmolo-Smith
(photo by Jim Jocoy)
Monte Cazazza and members of Factrix participated on Tana Emmolo-Smith's "Prescient Dreams" (which features excerpts from the diaries of Exene's late sister Mirielle Cervenka). Joseph T. Jacobs of Factrix performed the b-side, "Zanoni".  (Jacobs also played in Bay Of Pigs. Cazazza cowrote the b-side of The Leather Nun's "Prime Mover" single.) 

Monte Cazazza has recently performed as part of a theremin duo with Mary St. Meri (singer of The Housecoat Project, and mother of two with Bruce Lose of Flipper.) The 1978 debut EP by Negative Trend (with Will Shatter and Steve DePace of Flipper) was reissued in 1983 on Subterranean.

Patrick Miller aka Minimal Man
Minimal Man (aka Patrick Miller) was an early Deaf Club performer, and collaborated with members of Tuxedomoon and Factrix. Subterranean put out the debut Minimal Man album and a single before Miller followed the members of Tuxedomoon by relocating from San Francisco to Belgium. Patrick Miller died in 2003. 

Stephen of Arkansaw Man
(photo by Jeanne Hansen)
Arkansaw Man was a trio that released one single on Subterranean and an EP on Modern Masters, a label run by Richard Kelly. Kelly (who studied with John Cage) co-founded the Club Foot in San Francisco, and produced several early Subterranean releases. Richard Kelly died in 1983, but his brainchild lives on in the music of The Club Foot Orchestra.

Richard Kelly
Club Foot co-founder

After 1983, Subterranean's catalog was all albums (with the exception of two oddities from 1985 and 1987 and a 1990 Flipper single.) Subterranean released LP's by Frightwig, Pop-O-Pies, Longshoremen, Polkacide, Any Three Initials, Controlled Bleeding, Psyclones, Caroliner, and The Housecoat Project. The label got into folk music with The Muskrats, The Terminators of Endearment, Penelope Houston, and Kathleen Yearwood. They reissued records from Japan (Angel'in Heavy Syrup) Switzerland (The Monsters), and England (Low Flying Aircraft) as well as the Dry Lungs series of noise compilationsThe label has essentially been dormant since the late 1990's. 

Z'ev in performance

I can't forget to mention Stefan Weisser (aka Z'ev and Uns).  His discography on Subterranean includes an EP (SUB 14), an LP (SUB 30), a cassette box set (SUB 29) and an appearance on the Live At Target compilation. He was also part of the 1980's SF group Rhythm & Noise with Naut Humon and Diamanda Galas. Weisser performed with Glenn Branca, Keiji Haino, KK Null, Stephen O'Malley, Psychic TV, Lydia Lunch, Boyd Rice, Faust, Chris Watson (Cabaret Voltaire) and many others. Stefan Weisser died in December 2017. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Subterranean Singles: Second Serving

1981 was an amazing year for Subterranean Records.  It started with the first Flipper single (SUB 7) and ended with The Dead Kennedys' "Nazi Punks" single (SUB 24). In between was the Red Spot compilation, the Witch Trials EP and albums by Minimal Man and Nervous Gender. Subterranean co-released records with Alternative Tentacles, Thermidor, and World Imitation Records (Monitor's label).

Subterranean also opened its doors to artists from outside the Bay Area. Tucson was the home of Les Seldoms, the Jr. Chemists, and Pre Fix (as well as the Meat Puppets, who first appeared on Monitor's album).  JFA's guitarist Mike Cornelius played with the Jr. Chemists; Les Seldoms shared members with the band Jacket Weather. The Arizona Disease EP influenced Beat Happening, Some Velvet Sidewalk and their ilk.

Ultrasheen was a SF combo that included members of The Mutants and Romeo Void. This interview details Ultrasheen's links to the Club Foot scene, which included Subterranean artists Bay Of Pigs, The Inflatable Boy Clams, Longshoremen, The Alterboys, Arkansaw Man, and Jed Speare (who appeared on Red Spot with Eazy Teeth and Research Library). Subterranean's website has a a free download of the Club Foot compilation LP!

Carol Detweiler and Judy Gittlesohn (pictured above) were in Pink Section, The Inflatable Boy Clams, and Longshoremen. (Photo by Ruby Ray, from her book From The Edge Of The World.) Tommy Tadlock was a producer as well as a performer. His credits include Tuxedomoon, Pink Section, Noh Mercy and Pre Fix. Wilma was a group led by K.D. Davis and Louise Deidrich; after their 1981 EP, they released a self-titled LP on Subterranean in 1985.

Superior Viaduct has reissued recordings by many San Francisco artists: The Avengers, Black Humor, Crime, Factrix, Flipper, The German Shepherds, Monitor, MX-80 Sound, Negative Trend, Noh Mercy, Pink Section, The Residents, The Sleepers, and Tuxedomoon. Superior Viaduct also published the aforementioned book of Ruby Ray's photographs.  

Friday, March 23, 2018

Subterranean Singles: San Francisco Underground

Subterranean Records was a San Francisco label started in 1979 by Steve Tupper and Michael Fox, who bonded over a shared love for The Screamers and Negative Trend and a mutual desire to document the local music scene.  

SF was known for The Avengers, Nuns, Crime, Mutants, and Dead Kennedys. But there were many lesser known artists performing at clubs like Mabuhay Gardens, the Sound Of Music, the Temple, the Savoy, Club Foot, and the Deaf Club; as well as multimedia performances at Survival Research Laboratories and Target Video.  

Subterranean showcased not only punk bands but also industrial/noise artists like Factrix, Z'ev, and Monte Cazazza; the synthpunk of Nervous Gender and Minimal Man; and the garage rock of The Jars. In interviews, Tupper said that Subterranean wanted to provide a street level alternative to the commercial aspirations of labels like 415.

Mike Fox produced the early Subterranean releases in his home studio. He was a talented guitarist who led The Tools, played with Sick Pleasure, and formed Code Of Honor with Johnithin Christ from Society Dog.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Last Of The Songs the Panther Burns Taught Us

It's almost a shame to separate these songs by genre, because part of the appeal of Panther Burns records is that Tav Falco's aesthetic includes music from around the world and throughout the 20th Century.

The first album alone included samba, country and rockabilly songs, and blues ranging from W.C. Handy to R.L. Burnside.  I can't forget Leadbelly's Bourgeois Blues (which Tav Falco first performed on a Memphis stage while destroying a guitar with a chainsaw).  

On my favorite Panther Burns album, The World We Knew, Tav Falco applies his unique vocal stylings to the title track (made famous by Frank Sinatra). He sings off key and off the beat on Pass The Hatchet and She's A Bad Motorcycle.  The mercurial Alex Chilton sounds like the happiest man alive shouting along with Do The Robot.  It's impossible to listen and be unaffected by Tav Falco's enthusiasm and his eclectic musical vision.

This last batch is a potluck of songs that can't be pigeonholed as blues, rockabilly, or R & B. It is the collection most representative of the Panther Burns' wide range of influences, in that French garage rockers The Dum Dum Boys sit alongside the jazz of Jimmy Witherspoon and the Merseybeat of The Honeycombs. Tav is equally conversant with Texas swing, Hill Country fife and drum, and Argentinian tango.

Perhaps the most significant figures here are Ray Charles (who erased the artificial boundaries between country and blues music), and Memphis musicians Sid Selvidge and Jim Dickinson (who were instrumental in Alex Chilton's solo career, and whose group Mudboy And The Neutrons was a predecessor to the blues-based performance art of the Panther Burns). 

Tav Falco's R&B Jukebox (Vol. 3 of 4)

It is said that James Luther Dickinson rescued tapes of Sir Mack Rice demos from a dumpster behind Stax Records. Had he not done so, the classic Tina The Go-Go Queen might only be known to the world in its disco version.  I could only find a two minute fragment of the Mack Rice demo.  The Panther Burns recorded three of Rice's songs:  Tina, Do The Robot, and Money Talks.

Among his many talents, Tav Falco is a filmmaker and film historian.  He is surely familiar with Bruce Conner's short film "Breakaway" (which you can watch here unless it's been taken down again).  Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell held the lights as a young and lovely Toni Basil danced to her 1966 single of the same name.

Breakaway is a terrific Motown style tune written by Ed Cobb (composer of Tainted Love, Dirty Water, and Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White). It's interesting that Toni Basil and Ed Cobb both had hits in the New Wave era: Basil with Mickey and Cobb with Soft Cell's version of Tainted Love. The Panther Burns covered Breakaway on their excellent 2015 album, Command Performance.  

More Songs About Rockets, Trains, and Motorcycles

Tav Falco And The Panther Burns will swing through the Southeast in May 2018, with shows in Little Rock, New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, Asheville, Richmond, and Philadelphia. 

There is a new book of photographs ("This Could Go On Forever: On The Road With Tav Falco & Panther Burns" by Gina Lee) as well as Mr. Falco's own psychogeographic history of Memphis, "Ghosts Behind The Sun: Splendor, Enigma, and Death".  And he made a Christmas record!

Visit for tour dates and to learn about all his multimedia activities.  The man turned 70 two years ago, but I can tell you from eyewitness experience during his Whistleblower tour that he can still tango.  

Songs The Panther Burns Taught Us (Vol. 1 of 4)

You are undoubtedly familiar with the essential series Songs The Cramps Taught Us. (I dare not doubt it, dear reader.)  You may also know that someone did the Lord's work of compiling Songs The Fall Taught Us. But what of the estimable Tav Falco and his Unapproachable Panther Burns? Many are the songs I first encountered on their records, and last year I took it upon myself to track down all the originals.

Since 1979, Signore Gustavo Falco has celebrated the music of Memphis, North Mississippi and all points south of the Mason-Dixon line. You may have seen an excerpt of an early Panther Burns' TV appearance in the Big Star documentary; in the unedited clip, Tav politely and eloquently explains to his hostile hostess that the "real musicians" of Memphis had become "invisible" and that a new kind of music was necessary to bring them back to the eyes and ears of the public.  

I think Tav has accomplished this. He was an early champion of R.L. Burnside, Cordell Jackson, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Charlie Feathers, and others. He was there during the recording of Like Flies On Sherbertwhen Alex Chilton reinvented himself by abandoning Anglophilia for the sounds of his native city (which inspired the Beatles, Kinks, and Stones). What I wouldn't give to have been a human fly on the wall when Chilton brought The Cramps to Memphis. Imagine Lux, Ivy, Tav, Alex, and Jim Dickinson spinning their favorite records for each other!