Thursday, August 27, 2009

MUSIC: Ellie Greenwich RIP

"She was the greatest melody writer of all time"---Brian Wilson.

God-like genius songwriter Ellie Greenwich has passed.

Of course there are all the legendary classics and hits she is best known for, but Ellie’s 1973 Verve solo album Let It Be Written, Let It Be Sung is an underrated and overlooked gem worth discovering. It’s one of my all-time favorite albums. I used to play several selections from it all the time on my old KWUR radio show thirty years ago, and would often close my show with the album’s wonderful waltz/lullaby remake of “Be My Baby.”

An old friend stayed with Ellie in her NYC apartment back then when her sister was getting married to a guy who was working with Ellie at the time. Aware of my total worship of all things Ellie, she brought back this stunning 8X10 glossy for me. I still get goose bumps every time I read the nice little note Ellie wrote to me on the back of the photo.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

For Mikey

Five years ago today a horrific highway accident took the lives of my dear friends Mike Shelton, Carrie Lindsey, and their daughter Emily. In a town full of rock and roll characters down through the years, Mike Shelton was one of St. Louis’ most memorable. He was an old school friend of the stars and star to his friends, and was the living embodiment of that line You wanna be there when they count up the dudes… from (his beloved) David Bowie’s "Rebel Rebel".

Mike was a really great older brother to me as well as an out of control 13 year old younger brother all at once. A sex, drugs, & rock and roll Gilbert Bates if you will, always ready to lead us gullible little Beaver Cleavers in his universe into yet another crazy adventure. An evening out with Mikey was usually filled with all sorts of mischief and narrow escapes, and certainly never dull.

Through all of our fun together I learned a whole lot about life from the guy, and there was a great big heart and a lot of soul and wisdom underneath his Jerry Lewis-like exterior. He always had my back no matter what, and no one gave more encouragement and support to me in my so called career in rock than Mike. Whether in person or on the phone, at some point in every conversation I ever had with Mikey, he would ask, “When you playin’ again?” Before I was ever in a band and still unsure of ever being in one, Mikey kept pushing me to go for it. Like a scene from a cheesy movie, one day Mikey said to me, “Kid, you HAVE to do this. You got what it takes. Trust me, I know about these things…” And that was all the confidence I ever needed. Next thing you know I was in my first band, and I’ve never looked back…

So tonight I play another rock show, and like every rock show I’ve played with all of my various combos over the last five years, Mikey will be there with me once again---sitting on my shoulder and yelling in my ear: “TURN YOUR DAMN AMP UP, LAMEASS! PLAY FASTER! LOUDER! JUMP! MOOOOOOVE! C’MON, MOTHERFUCKER! GIMME SOMETHIN’ TO LOOK AT---THIS IS ROCK AND ROLL!"

Hang on to yourself Mikey, I promise to bring it hard tonight.

(left to right) Tony Fafoglia, Mike Shelton, and me rocking at Off Broadway, Jerry Durwachter Xmas Show, 1988.

The evening was supposed to be a celebration of the holiday season, but sure enough we wound up with some typical Shelton chaos. Seems a very drunk member of the audience didn’t approve of some of my & Mike’s stage antics (don't ask), so after the show he was in my face in the middle of the dance floor all hot and ready to kick my ass. As I tried to talk the guy down, Shelton of course egged the guy on, doing all he could to get a fracas going. Things started to get a little scary, so Mike and I resorted to a move that had saved us from harm a couple times prior in our travels, the old act-crazier-than-the-guy-who’s-about-to-kick-your-ass move. We escaped yet again with no blood shed, and Shelton wound up getting a hug from the guy’s girlfriend. So very Mikey...

(Snapshot from a video by Chris Ballew, original photo by Carrie Lindsey)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

STEVE ROCK: Finn's Motel At Off Broadway Saturday 8/22

Finn's Motel plays smoke free Off Broadway this Saturday, August 22nd. We play second on the bill, around 10pm. Matador recording artist Sally Crewe And The Sudden Moves from Austin, Texas are headlining the show, and our old pal Tommy Keene is playing bass with Sally on her current tour. How cool is that?

The 75s from St. Louis open the show at 9pm.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

MUSIC: Willy DeVille RIP

Another shining testament to the diverse brilliance and originality of the late '70's CBGB's scene has passed. Mink DeVille's Jack Nitzche produced Cabretta is a timeless masterpiece and one of the greatest debut albums in the history of rock. Cabretta’s pleasures are eternal, and thirty years on I still listen to it all the time. When it comes to this particular stylistic turf, I think Cabretta is a better album than Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run.

By sheer dumb and typical ‘70’s rock booking luck, the original Mink DeVille played the old American Theater in St. Louis in 1977. If I remember correctly I believe the headliner was the dreaded Mahogany Rush. Can’t say for sure as we didn’t stick around after Mink DeVille’s short, maybe not even a half hour set. And they were absolutely tremendous as they ripped through all of those classics from Cabretta like "Venus Of Avenue D," "Little Girl," "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl," "Gunslinger," and show stopper, "She's So Tough."

Willy of course was such a riveting and brilliant singer, with an absolutely commanding stage presence. I had seen Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in 1975, so that was my immediate easy comparison. But Mink DeVille’s version of that template had the aura of something far darker and grittier underneath its musical beauty, stemming from a world so completely alien to my then 21 year old white suburban ass sitting there in the Mid-West. I'm sure if you had met Clarence Clemons or Miami Steve back then they’d probably share a beer and let you hang, but it was easy to see that after a show these Mink DeVille guys were headed straight to neighborhoods I had no business ever setting foot in. They looked so elegantly cool and exotic, yet simultaneously prepared for any sort of trouble and rough business that came their way. More like a gang than a rock band. These were guys who probably carried guns and knives in their pockets along with their guitar picks. And drugs. Very hard drugs.

And in that brief and intense half hour onstage in front of an audience that didn’t give two shits about them, Mink DeVille blew away the dozen or so of us who knew Cabretta and were there just to see them. I’ll never forget how great they were. Those guys earned every illicit pleasure I hope they went out and found after their show that night.

Willy DeVille, you were so very much the real deal.