Penultimate Sunday at Cafe NELA

So for I don’t know how many hours all these very creative types—some musicians, a writer, a couple artists, maybe some others—had settled in around a beat up table in an assortment of abandoned chairs at the very bottom of the Cafe NELA patio. Either gravity or our careers had left us there because you couldn’t get any lower than that table. We sat there drinking and smoking and laughing way too loud, the jokes were terrible and the insults mean and the stories were always old and sometimes true. Far nicer people than us gave us a wide circle, like plump eating fish warily eyeing a circle of sharks. Sometimes one would foolishly come too close and be devoured, chomp, in a swirl of cackles and humiliation. It was all rather merciless and totally enjoyable and we sat there for hours laughing and basking in our asshole exceptionalism. We knew we were it. We knew it did not get any lower than us. More dumb jokes, each more offensive than the last. Some bass players have no pride at all. Eventually three grown men were doing Jackie Mason impressions at the same time, though not quite in harmony. I’d never heard three bad Jackie Mason impressions at the same time. Probably never will again. Pipes went round. Holy vodka in a water bottle, Batman. Even friends were abandoning us by now. The Jackie Mason was getting weird, the sculptress was getting dangerously out there. We were starting to peak on our own delicious high. This is what I’m gonna miss, my painter buddy said, this. You can see music anywhere, he said, but this…. He gestured it in water colors, I saw it in words. This, he said, this is the life.

AC3

The AC3 at the Garage, I think, a zillion years ago. Allen A. Clark III was all of three years old here and already quite the drummer. His pop, Allen Clark Jr and mom Zebra (aka Zaida Clark, that’s her legs) formed the trio when AC started syncopating before he could walk, taking after his old man (once the driving beat of the Lazy Cowgirls) who is playing guitar here off to the right. You have to imagine it, as he’s not in the picture. I remember carefully composing this picture to get the perfect balance of child and gams, but I didn’t bother with Dad. After you’ve seen a guy leap stark naked into your drum kit there’s nothing much else to see. But that’s another story, deep in the blog somewhere. And little AC the tyke drummer is now huge AC the monster drummer, and mom and dad and son are rocknroll lunatics back in Indiana. And if that ain’t a wholesome tale I don’t know what is.

Trout Mask Replica

It came out in 1969 and even though I’d heard of it for years, I didn’t actually hear Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica until much, much later: 1978. Nine years late. Talk about uncool, uneducated, and unhip. Still, it immediately had a huge impact on me. Not just the mind blowing music (“Pena” remains the strangest piece of music I’ve ever heard), but the stunning imagery in the lyrics, which shaped my own prose (especially “Bill’s Corpse” for some reason I could not begin to explain). People read my stuff and assume I’ve read James Joyce but I never have, what they’re hearing is Don Van Vliet. But perhaps most surreal to me now is the fact that four decades have transpired since this now five decades old album finally connected with my gray matter. It was on the third spin in perhaps as many days and it still eluded me until half way through “Hobo Chang Ba” I got it. Hobo Chang Ba, the Captain groaned, Hobo Chang Ba, and suddenly all was clear. What exactly made it so clear I do not know, but suddenly the frantic clattering music made perfect sense. It still does, most of my lifetime later. Forty years can make a man’s eyes, a Beefheart fan’s eyes, flow out water, salt water.

Chris Stein

It’s just so cool to see Chris Stein (of the legendary Saccharine Trust and so many other aggregations) getting such a jazz man’s send off on Facebook, people talking about what a great guy he was and such a solid, inspired ensemble player. The grief is there, low and blue, but I think there’s no greater way to pay tribute to a musician who fought so hard against the inevitable than to talk about what a great guy he was and such a good player. He’ll certainly be missed in our crazy underground. He’ll certainly be missed on inspired nights at Cafe NELA. Bassists like him are a rare thing. People probably even rarer. A shame he’s gone but a treasure he was.

Chris Stein at Cafe NELA in another terrific live shot by Deb Frazin.

Steaming Coils

Listening to Steaming Coils lost masterpiece Breaded–the record, I don’t think it ever came out on CD–and digging Brad Laner’s drums. Way loose, loopy, groovy, just the right pops and splashes, splattery press rolls and punchy bass drum kicked loud under crashing cymbals. It’s all so gloriously unmechanical and organic, and the only other drummer that comes to mind is Jim Capaldi. I have a memory, maybe even true, of telling Brad Laner the Jim Capaldi thing and him saying he was a fan too. Grok. Not many were in those Bonham days. Everyone wanted heavy back then. Not me. I liked loose. That memory would have been at Be Bop records, I think, maybe even at the Breaded release gig. There were few venues then and we’d drive out to the depths of the Valley to stand in the back of a record store and listen to the sounds of the eighties underground. Afterward we’d repair to the biker bar next door and watch hulking Hells Angels play pool as their women tried to start fights. Then we’d hang out on Sherman Way like juvenile delinquents getting stoned with our fellow denizens for the long drive back to Hollywood. Memories. But back to now and I’m listening to the opening cut again. “Carne del Sol” it’s called and I want to know what it says the singers sing. Play it backwards, play it backwards, snare splat, cymbal splash and fade.

Kyle C. Kyle

(2015)

Damn, Kyle C. Kyle. Cool dude, amazing stories, a fine drummer who sounded like nobody else, playing in a band–the Wild Stares–that would have driven most of his drumming brethren mad. What a bad ass shuffle he laid down, I remember. Utterly unique.

Ah well….

Can’t remember who we’d all gone to see, but I had my last long conversation with him at Café Nela maybe a year ago. He was ageless, unchanging, a laconic presence that could have fooled a lot of people into thinking he had nothing to say. Not true. In fact, it was back a zillion years ago when I did a long story on the Wild Stares, and Kyle C. Kyle’s were some of the more incisive comments from a band full of brilliant minds.

Here’s that ancient story. Sorry about the writing. But you can still hear him in it, I think, his voice, his thinking. Somewhere I have tapes I made prepping that story. One a long interview. The other, especially priceless, a Wild Stares rehearsal. Kyle nails it. One of my favorite ever drummers.

Oh well….it happens.

The Wild Stares in the early 90's, Kyle C. Kyle on the left.

The Wild Stares in the early 90’s, Kyle C. Kyle on the left.

Cobraside

(sometime in 2016)

Began yesterday at the hippest place in town, known only to the cognoscenti, anti-hipsters (or maybe they just have issues) and beautiful European women with no names and security details.  Cobraside Records in on that new Melrose, San Fernando Blvd, where LA becomes Glendale and the street signs change color. It’s a wholesale distributor packed full of vinyl and CD, and occasionally live bands out back, and it’s free, and a party, and I sit at my brother’s desk–he’s shipping manager–and move everything around. The Rubber Snake Charmers opened, a jam band with Mario Lalli and whoever else has an ax, and Mario–aka Boomer–began this grooving kraut rock bass line that the drummer line up behind and Vince Meghrouni began a beautifully searching solo on the tenor. This went on for maybe an hour, too briefly, Vince switching to alto, to flute, back to tenor, and the whole thing was never less than  what musicologists call groovy when they are really stoned. Remarkable even. Jam bands can fall flat on their faces, or stumble about, or just bore everybody, but these cats were beyond all that and made something that would get airplay on hip underground stations worldwide had it been recorded. Which it was not.